Over the last few weeks avid readers and writers alike have commented on his record, his whiff ability, his GB:FB ratio, his K's, his walks, and everything else under the sun. But one thing's for sure: for whatever reason, everyone is rooting for Jeff Niemann.
Some root for him because the stars always align when he pitches and the Rays win. It is almost guaranteed in this first half of the season that if you could only watch one of the next 5 games, you'd have good odds to see a win if you picked the game when Niemann takes the mound. Some root for him hoping that every pitch is a continuous merging of past and present, of what was once high hopes finally becoming reality.
Some root for him hoping that with every good start, some GM will make a foolhearty offer, allowing Friedman to rip off another anal bumcover as Sean Connery would put it. And some just watch out of sheer morbid curiousity, wondering how long he can tightrope with fate with his bad peripherals. Regardless of your reasons, there is one major reason why to watch Niemann: potential. It's baseball's glowing word. It's what scouts drool over when watching a prospect. It's what Niemann is.
The key to Niemann is where everyone rates his potential. Ace? Mid-rotation? Back end? Maybe you look at Niemann and see a guy that's starting to get it, seeing a guy that 6-1 with a 2.55 ERA in his last 10 starts. Maybe you see his imposing 6'9" frame. Maybe you are reminded of his first round pedegree. But maybe you are also reminded of his hollow stats. Maybe you think he's riding a high like a guy winning a few hands at the blackjack table, but you know, sometime soon, the dealer's going to pull a 21.
I've paid more attention to Niemann in the past few weeks because it seems as if many are unconvinced he can improve, continue to improve, or be anything more than an average trade piece. With a farm system glowing with shiny new (and more talented) pitching prospects, Niemann has already become the old toy, barely having a chance to be played with.
Regardless of where you think Niemann's true value stands, if he can continue to throw out starts anywhere near tonight's, his potential will be enough to pay good dividends, whether in our rotation, or someone else's. Continuing to try to be as creative as possible to battle against financial bottomless pits in the AL East, the Rays need Niemann as they try to build for this year, next year, and beyond.