Minor League Report: Jonathon Niese

There's something about Niese

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The late Dan Quisenberry threw right-handed and clearly thought left-handed, occasionally lamenting the former condition. Left-handedness, once considered a shortcoming or flaw in the real world, is often an advantage in baseball. And Quisenberry once likened it to the advantage that blondes are said to enjoy. "I'd like to dye myself left-handed," he said once. And all of baseball understood.

Left-handed pitchers are conspicuous by their presence in any Spring Training camp. At Mets camp, where the staff includes Al Jackson, Rick Waits and Randy Niemann -- all former big league pitchers who made their marks left-handed -- those who pitch from that side might cause more of a stir. You may have noticed that the Mets recently invested $137.5 million in left-handedness. And their owner even signs the checks left-handed.

That said, a peculiar compliment was paid to Jonathon Niese on Thursday after he completed throwing batting practice to Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Endy Chavez and Luis Castillo. Waits, the Mets' Minor League pitching coordinator, said Niese "would stand out if he were right-handed." Niese, 21 and decidedly left-handed, is among those invited to "Camp Look-See." He won't be pitching in Queens this summer, but the day that happens will precede the next lunar eclipse.

"With the progress he's made since this time last year," Waits said, "you can start to figure on him getting his chance."

Niese last year pitched for the St. Lucie Mets of the Florida State League, the most competitive Class A affiliate the Mets have and, according to Waits, he's "reached the turning point."

Niese may pitch at Double-A Binghamton this year after "getting to the point all pitchers get to," Waits said.

Waits said Niese improved his command and his changeup, and he learned how to use the improvement in both areas to his benefit. He won 11 of 18 decisions, producing a 4.27 ERA in 27 starts and 134 1/3 innings in 2007. His hits allowed were a bit high -- 151. But he reduced his walks from 67 in 133 2/3 in 2006 -- all but 10 of the innings at a lower level of Class A -- to 31 in 134 1/3 innings last season. His final 10 starts produced a 4-3 record, but a 3.38 ERA as well.

"What we like now is he's pitching competitive, aggressively and hungry," Waits said. "We can preach that, but you can't teach it."

Have a cigar (and sip some champagne): Niese was born the day the Mets won their last World Series in 1986 -- Oct. 27.

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They're No. 1: Eddie Kunz, the reliever the Mets selected in the first round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, is the biggest of the big. Even in a clubhouse with young pitchers who appear rather burly, Kunz stands out at 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds. But what distinguishes him most is his sinking fastball.

"It might be heavier than [Mike] Pelfrey's," said catcher Ramon Castro.

The players often refer to Pelfrey's pitch as "a bowling ball." Kunz's stuff is still relatively unknown to the other players. For now, his shoulders are his calling card.

Reliever Joe Smith was the most conspicuous young pitcher at camp in 2007.

"But I'm half the size of some of the guys in here now, maybe not even half," said Smith, who is listed at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds. "They're all monsters."

What they're saying: "I try to keep myself from getting too excited about young players. I keep my opinions to myself. I'll say 'Wow,' to myself when I see one kid throw. But two weeks later, I'll see him against hitters and it's 'not so wow.' I try to be realistic and I'm guarded about what I say. ... But after what I've seen with the kids like Niese, [Robert] Parnell and Kunz, right now I am excited." -- manager Willie Randolph, on the Mets' young pitching

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.