2007-08-03 / Sports

Mets Draft Pick Seeks Opportunity In Brooklyn

By Patrick Hickey Jr.

Drafted in the third round of this year's draft, Cyclones southpaw Eric Niesen figured he was going to be used out of the bullpen, much like he had been in college. However, after Brooklyn starters J.J. Leaper and Todd Privett had Tommy John surgery two weeks apart, Niesen was thrust into the starting rotation and has made the most of his opportunity, amassing 15 strikeouts and a 1.50 ERA in four starts.

Rather than complain about being used in a role that he doesn't feel suits him, Niesen is just happy to be on the mound.

"Any time you can go out and pitch as much as I am right now, it's always a blessing," said Niesen. "Being able to be a part of this starting rotation and having the trust and confidence of the organization really means something to me and I'm ready to make the most of it."

Used mostly as a reliever with Wake Forest the past two seasons, making 55 appearances and only nine starts, Niesen brings a closer's mentality to the starting rotation and isn't scared to bring the heat. With pitchers in the rotation such as Dillon Gee, Nick Waechter and Tim Stronach, who live and die by the ground ball, the Cyclones could use another strikeout artist to complement Dylan Owen.

After four starts this season, it's obvious that Niesen is now that man.

"I'm not afraid to go after anyone," said Niesen. "I have a bulldog mentality and even though I spent most of this season coming out of the pen, I don't see that as a problem now that I'm starting. I'm going to go after every hitter I face with every pitch I throw and they're going to see every pitch that I have."

Cyclones manager Edgar Alfonzo also sees something special in his young lefty and refuses to rush his development.

"Niesen has an exploding fastball and a good changeup," said Alfonzo. "He battles out there and can throw the ball right by people."

Knowing that he doesn't have much experience starting, the Cyclones have imposed a strict pitch count on Niesen, in order to stop the Detroit-native from burning himself out. Armed with a 95 miles per hour fastball and a slider that sails through the hitting zone, Niesen understands why the organization is taking things so slow with him.

"They have a pitch limit on me and right now I'm just trying to get as many outs as I can in as little pitches as possible," said Niesen. "I don't know what the organization's plans for me are right now, but I know they want to be careful with me. However, my job on the mound doesn't change because of it. It's my job to go out there and win games and that's what I'm going to do."

Being used in a role that's not ideally suited for his talent and then being forced to work within a strict pitch count, no one would be surprised if Niesen wasn't exactly thrilled with the way things are going in Brooklyn this year.

However, the 23-year-old believes that in order to reach the next level, he's going to have to do things on the mound he's never done before and is ready for whatever challenges that present themselves.

More importantly, Niesen is still thrilled that he's playing professional baseball and feels that he's living his dream. That, to him, is more important than what inning he pitches in, or how many pitches he throws.

"It's like a dream come true. I grew up about 15 minutes from the old Tiger Stadium and I remember watching guys like Allan Trammell, Lou Whitaker and Cecil Fielder," said Niesen.

"It was definitely what got me hooked on baseball and it's probably one of the reasons why I'm here with you guys today. This is what I've always wanted to do."

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