Last year, it was righty bats—this year, it's righty arms. With their first pick of the 2015 MLB amateur draft, the Mariners selected Nick Neidert, a talented young right-hander out of Peachtree Ridge High School in Suwanee, Georgia.
In an effort to find out a bit more about Neidert, beyond the scouting reports from various prospect writers, I reached out to one of the men who would know him best—his high school coach, Jim Hunter. Before serving as coach of the Lions, which he's been doing for 10 years, Hunter played professionally for 10+ seasons, including a stint with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1991.
Here's what he had to say about his ace.
The first thing some people notice with Nick is his stature. In doing so, for example, they make the Tim Hudson comps. What are your thoughts on his build—and whether that's mattered or not at all?
Nick is 18 years old. He has not yet reached his physical potential. Like Hudson, he is a terrific athlete who could play every position on the field. In today’s game all I hear folks talk about is measurables and they don’t seem to focus on whether that translates to if they can play or not. Nick is a player; who has a consistent 93-94 mph fastball. He still has a tremendous upside as he matures and the fact that there is concern that he is only 6’1" to me is laughable.
In just looking at the early video, Nick's fastball has a lot of life but people are, naturally, curious of the secondary offerings. What are your thoughts on his overall repertoire?
Nick’s fastball can be electric. His breaking ball is more like a slider than a curve. The only thing I ever saw as an issue was his arm slot. When he threw it from the same slot as his fastball it was quite good. His change-up has terrific action. The only adjustment I ever suggested is to take a bit more off of it. In my view he has three quality pitches. His stuff is as good as I have seen from a high school pitcher.
It seems like the thing that separates mid-round prospects is work ethic. What's his like? Is he a "baseball rat," in the gym all the time, asking good questions from his coaches, etc.?
Nick is one of the few players that came to us with a high baseball IQ. He knows the game and he works hard at it. On the field he is all business, not to say he wasn’t fun loving but once practice started he was always striving to get better. During conditioning he worked as hard as anyone trying to add strength. The part that was difficult was to get him to back off. He loves to throw. As a position player in high school we tried to limit the number of throws he would make in a day and the effort he put into each throw. He has the best hands of any infielder that I have seen in a long time. He was a shortstop/third baseman for 3 years. This year we put him in the outfield to protect his arm from all the throws he would make on the infield. Turns out he was incredible in the outfield as well.
What do you think Nick improved the most in working with you during his high school career? What do you look for him to improve as he goes forward?
To be honest I coached Nick for two years which were his freshman and senior years. We knew he had a good arm. As a freshman, the staff figured out pretty quickly he could be special. He did not get to pitch much because he played JV and we were short infielders. His sophomore and junior years is when he developed as a pitcher. Coach Ryan Hanik and Coach Tedd Sims would be better people to ask about this. I only heard about how well he was doing. I was told about how special he was last summer and saw him a few times throw a light side session in the fall. This spring I saw a kid who developed his arm and body into the player that was drafted in the second round.
He improved tremendously on being efficient. He cut down his walks and pitched to contact. His strikeout totals didn't suffer but he avoided deep counts and limited the number of pitches he threw each game. Going forward he will have to adjust to being a professional like every kid drafted. The daily grind of playing every day and the routine a pitcher goes through in preparing for each start. Plus the adjustment to being a pitcher only.
Baseball's, obviously, very difficult. How do you think Nick responds to adversity?
Nick is a competitor. I’m sure the scouts knew but I am not sure others knew of the virus he contracted at the beginning of the season which he struggled with for a month. He had very little energy for two to three weeks. I know how bad he felt because I contracted the same virus. I was in bed for four days and took three weeks before I felt close to normal. He never complained or missed practice. He pitched every time it was his turn. I know it affected his performance to a degree but the fact that he could pitch at the level he did was amazing. The 3-3 record was not indicative of his performance all year. In my view he made one bad pitch all year. It was the last inning of the last game he pitched before the tendinitis shut him down for two weeks. I believe he was 100% healthy for only three of his starts. He struck out 26 in 17 innings in those starts with 1 earned run. We had a coaching staff turnover and a highly regarded team that never got untracked, added to the other things listed above my thought is the entire year he had to handle adversity. In the end I believe he developed into more of a leader than ever before.
An enormous thanks to Coach Hunter for participating here, and a worthy congratulations for having his pitcher drafted. Think it's fair to say we all look forward to seeing how Neidert develops going forward.