Rays' Niemann working hard in the AFL
Pitching prospect getting in innings, working on changeup
Rays' prospect Jeff Niemann is ironing out the kinks of his changeup and getting in extra innings while playing in the Arizona Fall League. Niemann chatted with fans online Thursday morning prior to his start for the Phoenix Desert Dogs.
Jeff Niemann: Hi everyone, welcome to the chat. We're ready to take your questions.
mayoj: How would you compare winning the College World Series in 2003 to winning the Southern League title this year?
Niemann: It was a lot different winning the College World Series, compared to the Southern League. At Rice, we all had a very close bond from being with each other for two years. In Montgomery this year, it was a lot of fun also. We had a young team, we had a lot of fun and we came together at the right time.
zimmy22: What's it like being a foot taller than some of your teammates? Have you always been the kid in the back of the team picture?
Niemann: It's something I'm used to. Growing up, I was never that guy in the back of the picture until I turned 16 or 17, when I kept growing and everyone else stopped.
mayoj: People often say that for pitchers your size, it's hard to maintain consistent mechanics. What are some of the things you do to make sure you are able to repeat your delivery consistently?
Niemann: Something that I have to work on constantly is being able to repeat my mechanics. Because of my size, there's a lot more that can go wrong.
matt3573: Hi Jeff. Congratulations on a great season with the Biscuits. Do you stay in touch with your rotation-mates from Rice, Philip Humber and Wade Townsend? Did you get a chance to hang out with [Phil] Humber while you guys were in Arizona?
Niemann: Yes, we all stay in touch. Everyone from that Rice team has stayed in pretty good contact with each other. Yes, I did get to see Philip when he was out here. But I didn't get to see him throw, unfortunately.
scutler3: When did you decide that you wanted to be a pitcher and not an everyday player?
Niemann: When I wasn't good enough to play every day.
scutler3: How difficult is it to make the transition from college?
Niemann: Professional baseball is definitely different than college. It takes a little while to get adjusted to the Minor League lifestyle because the season is longer and there are more games than in college.
scutler3: What's your best pitch?
Niemann: The slider is my strikeout pitch. It's been my pitch since I learned it as a freshman at Rice.
matt3573: Hey there Jeff. We hear that pitchers are in fall ball for different reasons. Are you there just to get "more innings" or are you also working on any new pitches? Thanks.
Niemann: I'm out here for two reasons, one is to get a few more innings and the other is to iron out the kinks on my changeup. It's been a pitch I've been tinkering with this season. I'm starting to gain confidence in it.
jwgator: Jeff, you still bringing the mullet back?
Niemann: Of course. That's where my power comes from.
matt3573: What do you see as the biggest improvement you made in your game over the past season?
Niemann: Coming back from surgery last offseason, I didn't have my best breaking stuff when I started throwing in extended games and during the season in Double-A. So I learned how to use my fastball as a strikeout pitch. Before it was usually just all breaking balls to strike guys out. But I learned how to go in and out, up and down with my fastball to use it as a legitimate out pitch.
Andrew_Leppla: Who do you think will be the toughest to get out when you get to the Majors?
Niemann: In our division, on any team for that matter, there will be a tough out. So it just depends on who we're playing that day.
Andrew_Leppla: Do you think you will be able to make the rotation for the Rays out of Spring Training this year? If so, I know Scott Kazmir has the Kaz's Krazies, so do you think you want to have your own group of fans known as something?
Niemann: I'm going to try to do everything in my power to make the team by Spring Training. But there's some things you can't control. So I'm planning on just going out there and giving it my all and seeing what happens. I would be honored to have my own group of fans.
drayfan4life: Jeff, what kind of music do you listen to? And whose your favorite artist?
Niemann: I have one of the most diverse iPods around. I have everything on there. But when it comes down to it, what I listen to before my games is usually Metallica.
Andrew_Leppla: How has your arm recovered from missing last season? Are you throwing any harder now? That would be scary if you were.
Niemann: It's been a long road through all the rehab and all the rehab starts. But finally I am back to normal, knock on wood. The velocity has come back as well as the breaking stuff.
Andrew Leppla: How much do you study each hitter before a game?
Niemann: At certain levels, there's only so much information you have. I usually try to pitch to my strengths as opposed to pitching to their weaknesses. Makes it easier that way.
Andrew_Leppla: How do you like playing for the Rays organization? Is it somewhere you expected to be going out of Rice?
Niemann: I have enjoyed my time with the Rays so far and hopefully, will have many good years to come. Out of the draft, I had no idea where I was going to go. It was a very talented field that year, so when I went to the Rays I was very excited.
zamoose: What aspect of your pitching ability would you like to see improve most next season?
Niemann: Just consistency, that's the name of the game. To be able to go out there and do it every single time out.
drayfan4life: How's the arm feeling, and will you take strides to keep your arm healthy for Spring Training this season?
Niemann: The arm is feeling great right now even after almost a full season. I can't wait to go to Spring Training next year and compete for a job. We have a lot of young talent and it should be a lot of fun. Of course I have my routine that I do to keep my arm strong and healthy, and I diligently will do that this year.
mayoj: I know you are pitching today, so we really appreciate you chatting. During the season, are you usually the type that doesn't like to talk on days you're going to pitch?
Niemann: I'm pretty easy-going on the days I start. It's just the 30 minutes before you have to go out there, that's when I go to my happy place.
Niemann: Time for one last question.
Andre_Leppla: When do you expect you will be in the Rays' rotation and where in the rotation do you expect to be?
Niemann: Well, hopefully out of Spring Training, but if not, then soon thereafter. I'm not quite sure where I would fit. That's something that will be sorted out in Spring Training.
Niemann: Thanks everyone for participating. I had a good time. Thanks for all the support. I had a good time interacting with everyone today.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.