Fantasy Focus: Getting to Know Fernando Nieve

Well Met fans – yesterday was exactly what we needed – a win against the Yankees to help us forget the debacle of Friday night (that shall not be mentioned – EVER AGAIN).  And a key to the victory Saturday – our surprise starting pitcher – Fernando Nieve who went seven (almost) strong innings in that bandbox of a park called (New) Yankee Stadium – and that I call – the House that Giuliani built…

So who is Fernando Nieve?  And what can we reasonably expect from him going forward?  What are the chances that we may have found a key arm to help our beleaguered rotation?  Let’s examine the question.

The History

Fernando Nieve is a 27 year old right handed pitcher from Puerto Cabello, Venezuela (making him a countryman of our ace – Johan Santana).  He’s a product of the Houston Astros organization – having been a prospect in their system since he was 18 years old.

He gradually moved through the Astros farm system advancing every year – though not rushed due to his young age.  At every level he showed the ability to strike hitters out – although as is typical of a young power pitcher he did have some issues with his control early on.  After a successful move up to AAA in 2005 – he figured prominently in the Astros plans for 2006.

Here’s a scouting report on Nieve in 2006 as one of their top pitching prospects:

Fernando Nieve RHP, HOU…..23…..1999 FA (Venezuela)

Strengths: 89-94 MPH four-seam fastball, 85-87 MPH cut-fastball, and 81-83 MPH slider. Command. Arm action. Aggressiveness

Weaknesses: Deception of 81-84 MPH straight-change. Setting-up pitches. Effort to ¾ delivery

Comments: Strong/stocky hurler lights-up strike zone with above average fastball and nails RH batters with cutter and slider. Improved command within strike zone and proved durable, despite effort to delivery. Gets into mindset where he wants to overpower hitters and will need to change speeds to combat LH batters.
2006 MLB Role: Spot starter/middle reliever

The Astros brought him up in 2006 – where he made 11 starts for them – pitching pretty well for a rookie – with a 4.20 ERA and striking out hitters at a rate of 6.5 per 9 innings.  Control and hrs were the issues and not surprising in a young pitcher.  However in August of 2006 he experienced some elbow issues that eventually shut him down for the season – and lingered into 2007.  Apparently it was misdiagnosed by Astro trainers as elbow tendinitis (sound familiar Met fans?) – and it was revealed later in 2007 that he had a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow – and would require Tommy John surgery.

He attempted to come back early from TJ surgery in 2008 and the Astros obliged moving him to the bullpen in order to preserve his arm.  Unfortunately he was spotty at best – and spent most of 2008 moving between AAA and the MLB club (which caused the Astros to run out of options on him).

The Astros waived Nieve early this year as he wasn’t making the big club – and the Mets swooped in and claimed him.  (good scouting by someone in our organization)  Although they knew Nieve wasn’t going to make the Opening Day roster the Mets optioned him right before Opening Day – thus allowing him to clear waivers and go to AAA Buffalo (another smart move).

He pitched reasonably well in the Mets minors in 2009 – re-establishing his dominance – averaging a strikeout per inning along with reasonable control 3.0 BB/9 – and a 3.75 ERA.

Finally – John Maine’s injury opened up a spot in the Mets rotation and with the organization either having given up on Jon Niese or thinking he needs additional “seasoning” – Nieve got the call.

The rest you know.  A great outing in a pressure situation against one of the better teams in baseball.  And certainly the opportunity to carve out a place in the Mets rotation if he can follow it up.

The Conclusion

Nieve, as evidenced on Saturday has a plus major league fastball (he claims he hit 99 mph before the surgery).  And according to Carlos Beltran (who gets a decent look from CF) – his change-up was extremely effective as well as a pitch that he’s recently added to his arsenal.

“I like the way he pitches, I like his velocity,” Carlos Beltran said. “He pitched a great game, he challenged players.”

Beltran was not just impressed with his velocity. Nieve consistently threw 93 mph, and peaked at 96 mph, according to Beltran, and had an effective changeup.

“He never had that pitch before in his career, so he looked pretty good out there now,” Beltran said.

Obviously it’s too early to say whether Nieve is for real or just “lightning in a bottle”.  However he is a 27 year old pitcher with 8 years experience – and is 2 years removed from TJ surgery – which is typically the time it takes for a pitcher’s arm to fully recover.  His stuff appears to be intact post-surgery – and he showed both poise and command (with all four pitches) on Saturday that was refreshing to see.

From a fantasy perspective – Nieve is a must buy free agent – his strikeout potential makes him a high upside pitcher on a good team – and the Mets rotation situation gives him a very fair opportunity to stick.

As a Met fan – here’s evidence of something done right (for a change) by management – and regardless of how it works out in the short term – Nieve is a quality arm with lots of potential upside –  AND he couldn’t have arrived at a better time.

Viva Fernando(s)!

PS – Can’t stand Met games on Fox and especially on ESPN…  Bring back the SNY simulcast on nationally televised games PLEASE!  (apologies to Kevin Burkhardt for advocating extra work for him)