This wasn’t the season Nick Neidert had envisioned. The Miami Marlins pitching prospect entered spring training with the possibility of getting a major-league call-up at some point during the season.
And then, three starts into his season with the Triple A New Orleans Baby Cakes, he tears his meniscus. Surgery. Two months off the mound and then another month of rehab assignments. He threw just 54 innings in the 2019 minor-league season and just 41 at the Triple A level.
But Neidert has shown no ill effects of the injury to his right knee.
In fact, the 22-year-old righty seems to have returned to full form — and could very well be on track to make the Marlins’ roster in 2020.
Just look at what he has done in the Arizona Fall League for the latest example. Neidert entering Monday leads the fall league, which is littered with top prospects from all 30 MLB teams, with 16 2/3 innings pitched. He is tied for third among pitchers with at least three starts with a 0.78 WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) and one of six pitchers who has thrown at least 10 innings and has a sub-1.75 ERA.
Neidert has given up just one run in his last three outings. He struck out five and gave up just two hits in 5 1/3 innings on Sunday.
His time in Arizona is helping him build off a successful final month in Triple A. After returning to the Baby Cakes rotation on Aug. 4, Neidert threw five consecutive outings with at least five innings pitched and no more than three runs allowed before a rough finale (5 ER in 2.1 IP)
His highlight performance: Six shutout innings, 10 strikeouts and just four hits allowed against the Omaha Storm Chasers on Aug. 20.
“It was frustrating, for sure,” Neidert told reporters in Arizona before the fall league began regarding his time missed to injury. “Not the season I planned out for myself. I’m very thankful it was a knee and not an arm injury. But to get back out and pitch the last month of the season felt great. It was kind of like spring training in August for me. It’s a little bit different than what I’m used to.
“I get an extra month here to pitch, and get some extra innings and get even better every single day.”
And, hopefully, show the Marlins that he can be a contender to be part of the starting rotation next season.
Neidert, a second-round pick in 2015 acquired from the Seattle Mariners in the Dee Gordon trade along with pitcher Robert Dugger and shortstop Christopher Torres, is the Marlins’ No. 11 overall prospect according to MLB Pipeline.
“Neidert is the most polished pitcher in the organization,” reads his scouting report. “He’s not flashy but his 92-95 mph fastball plays up because it has late movement and he commands it well. His plus changeup is his best pitch and his curveball flashes above-average potential.”
Barring injury or surprise trades, the only spots in the Marlins’ starting rotation appear to be locks heading into the offseason are Sandy Alcantara and Caleb Smith. Neidert will be competing with, among others, Pablo Lopez, Dugger, Jordan Yamamoto and potentially Jose Urena (if the Marlins decide to keep him as a starter). Sixto Sanchez and Edward Cabrera will be in the mix as well but are expected to open 2020 in the minor leagues.
More fall league highlights
▪ Outfielder Jerar Encarnacion, the Marlins’ No. 17 overall prospect, is tied for sixth in the fall league with nine RBI while hitting .294 (10 for 34) with one double, two home runs and eight runs scored in 10 games. He hit a grand slam on Saturday.
▪ Outfielder Victor Victor Mesa’s .355 batting average ranks sixth among those who have played at least eight games. Mesa, the Marlins’ No. 13 overall prospect, has also scored seven runs and has struck out just three times in 31 at-bats.
▪ Relief pitcher Alex Vesia, who had a strong close to the season with Double A Jacksonville, has thrown 6 2/3 shutout innings with 10 strikeouts, no walks and just two hits allowed over six relief appearances