Miami Marlins

Miami Marlins’ Neidert closing in on MLB debut, but baseball’s just part of his story

Marlins fans will potentially know Nick Neidert as a member of Miami’s starting pitching rotation as early as next season.

But his ability to excel on a baseball field only tells part of his story.

To know the real Nick Neidert is to see his impact beyond the diamond, how his desire to help others supersedes how he performs on the mound every fifth or sixth day.

Written in black ink on Neidert’s chest, just underneath his left shoulder blade, is the Bible verse “Mark 9:23.”

“Jesus said to him, ‘If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.’ ”

And Neidert believes.

He spends his offseason serving at a ministry in his hometown of Lawrenceville, Georgia — about 35 miles northeast of Atlanta.

He took a week-long mission trip to Guatemala last October. He became the padrino — or God father — to a 5-year-old named Manuel and keeps in touch with the family as much as he can.

Neidert heads back to Guatemala next week for a second mission trip.

Neidert’s religion, his faith, keeps him grounded and humble.

“We get to put a smile on their face,” Neidert, 22, said. “We get to tell them about our creator, about our God. Just to share joy and love, honestly at the end of the day, we’re very fortunate over here in the United States to have everything that we do. It puts a lot of stuff in perspective of how spoiled we are to live in such an amazing country like we do.”

It’s how he stayed optimistic after a knee injury and subsequent surgery barely two weeks into the 2019 season forced him to miss three months and delay a potential MLB debut.

It’s what pushed him through after he finished rehab to dominate the final month of the regular season and the six-week Arizona Fall League.

And it’s what will keep Neidert focused as he competes once again for a chance to make to get his first MLB call-up. Neidert, the Marlins’ No. 11 overall prospect according to MLB Pipeline, is the team’s most experienced pitching prospect who has yet to play at the major-league level. Barring another setback, he is likely to make his MLB debut at some point in 2020.

“When I get that opportunity,” Neidert said, “I’ll be forever grateful.”

That opportunity almost came last season.

Neidert, the Marlins’ 2018 minor-league pitcher of the year acquired as part of the Dee Gordon trade, was trending upward heading into the season with the Triple A New Orleans Baby Cakes.

And then, during a cool-down period following his second start on April 13, he felt a pop in his right knee.

With each passing day, the aches and pains intensified. Even walking up and down stairs proved to be a challenge.

He faced seven batters in his next start on April 19, barely being able to put enough weight on his knee to push off the mound and effectively pitch, before being pulled.

Neidert approached pitching coach Jeremy Powell the next day.

“I can barely walk, dude,” he told Powell. “I have to see what’s going on.”

The diagnosis: a torn right meniscus.

Surgery. Two months off the mound. Another month of rehab assignments.

A setback, yes.

Any doubts start creeping in? No way.

After four rehab assignments — two with the Marlins’ rookie Gulf Coast League affiliate and two more with the Class A Advanced Jupiter Hammerheads — and learning to trust his knee would hold up, Neidert was back to his normal self again.

Neidert threw five consecutive outings with at least five innings pitched and no more than three runs allowed after returning to the Baby Cakes rotation on Aug. 4 before a rough finale (5 earned runs in 2 1/3 IP).

And then, the invite to the Arizona Fall League.

Once again, he took it as a sign.

“I was like ‘All right, God. You’re going to do something to move me through this,” Neidert said. “’You’re going to do something to move me through this. I don’t know what it’s going to be, but I’m ready to go.”

The end result: A 1.25 ERA in 21 2/3 innings over five fall league starts. Neidert struck out 19 batters against just two walks while in Arizona as he helped the Salt River Rafters — a team made up of prospects from the Marlins, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Twins and Rays organizations — to an AFL championship.

Miami Marlins pitcher Nick Neidert throws during the spring training baseball workouts for pitchers and catchers at Roger Dean Stadium on Wednesday, February 13, 2019 in Jupiter, FL. DAVID SANTIAGO

“That was some of the most fun I’ve ever had playing ball,” Neidert said.

Neidert went into the fall league with a purpose of enhancing his slider and curveball. He already had an effective four-seam fastball and change-up at his disposal. Adding two more pitches he can throw for strikes will only elevate his game.

“If I really refine them,” Neidert said, “I think things will be good in 2020.”

And, most importantly, he had no issues with his knee.

“To finish the season feeling 100 percent after the knee surgery during the season and just battling a lot of ups and downs — some days I felt great, some days I felt terrible — I would say that’s a big note going into the offseason,” Neidert said, “knowing I can train normally and knowing I am 100 percent healthy.”

And it puts him on a level playing field with the rest of the Marlins pitchers competing for five coveted spots in the starting rotation once spring training begins in February. Two — Sandy Alcantara and Caleb Smith — are locks barring injury. Neidert will compete with, among others, Pablo Lopez, Jordan Yamamoto, Robert Dugger, Sixto Sanchez and Jose Urena for those final three spots.

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Jordan McPherson covers the Miami Marlins and high school sports for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and covered the Gators athletic program for five years before joining the Herald staff in December 2017.