Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down: Jon Niese

What is Jon Niese? Is he our promising young lefty that will emerge as a very solid pitcher for us?  Is he a guy who is very good at times, but somewhat inconsistent?  Is he a guy who will pitch to a 4.00 ERA every year, or will he start to put it together and solidify the number 3 or 4 spot in our rotation?

2011 was not a season of marketed improvement for Niese.  Niese shows flashes, but often times it is followed by a poor outing or a bad inning.  In his first two professional seasons he has finished with ERA’s of 4.20 and 4.40.  He ha given up 417 hits in just 370 big league innings, and even though he does not walk a lot of batters he still has a high WHIP as a result. Niese has made some improvements as he has added a cutter and is working on keeping the ball down more consistently.  His record thus far is 22-23, and if he can not improve on a career 1.46 WHIP I have a hard time believing that he can be more than a .500 pitcher.  With the numbers he is putting up so far he is pitching more like a number 4 or 5 starter than the 3 we had hoped he could be.  He has a chance to show us he is better than this next season, but with a slew of young arms coming he is running out of time.

Who’s Breathing Down His Neck? The short answer to this is, a lot of guys.  The players who are closest to joining the big league staff are Matt Harvey and Jeurys Familia, and they could be make that jump as early as 2012.  There is also the the newly appointed organizational top prospect Zack Wheeler, and stud lefty Darin Gorski who both finished the year in Single-A.  Both of these guys are further away, but with their potential it may not be as far as you think.

Niese’s Contract Situation. Jon is under the teams control for a long time.  He is not slated to enter his first arbitration year until the end of the 2013 season.  He remains under the teams control until the end of the 2015 season where he will become a free agent going into the 2016 season.

Potential Outside Replacements:  There are many intriguing options that could fit into a middle of the rotation spot that we desperately need to fill. The list of guys include Edwin Jackson, Mark Buehrle,  Hiroki Kuroda, and Roy Oswalt if his option of $16 Million is not picked up by Philadelphia. Recent rumors of the Cardinals not picking up Adam Wainwright’s remaining options have surfaced, and the potential opt of of C. C, Sabathia might give the Mets more opportunities while the teams focus on the big fish.

My Thoughts: I need to see more from Niese.  He has got to make significant strides this season or his spot in this rotation may be in serious jeopardy.  Alderson did not draft him and therefore has no attachment to him as a result.  With so many good and talented young arms coming Niese needs to prove he part of the solution going forward.  Another .500 season with a ERA over 4.00 and a WHIP of 1.40 may spell disaster for Jon.