The Ducks continued their trip down New York baseball memory lane Wednesday morning, officially signing former Mets pitcher Jon Niese. The Ducks drafted his rights following the Atlantic League Player Showcase in Lakeland, Florida, in late March.
“I’m very excited to have Jon on board for the 2019 season,” Ducks manager Wally Backman said in a statement. “He impressed on the mound during the Atlantic League Player Showcase, and his experience will no doubt be an asset to our pitching staff.”
Backman represented the Ducks at the player showcase. Ducks president and general manager Michael Pfaff stayed behind and spoke with Niese's agent, Tom O'Connell.
"From all reports, he was at the same velocity he was at the big league level and was showing everybody the repertoire that he had showed off on the big league stage," Pfaff told Newsday. "He looked strong..."
Niese last pitched in 2016 when he appeared in six games for the Mets. He went to spring training with the Yankees in 2017 and the Rangers in 2018, but did not pitch in either system after camp broke. The 32-year old, who was born on the day the Mets won the 1986 World Series, spent nine seasons in the big leagues, mostly with the Mets. He went 69-68 with a 4.07 ERA and 914 strikeouts in 211 appearances, including 197 starts.
The Mets traded Niese to the Pirates for Neil Walker in December 2015. The lefthander appeared in 23 games for the Pirates in 2016 and was traded back to the Mets in August of that year for pitcher Antonio Bastardo and cash.
Niese started 24 games or more for the Mets from 2010-2015. In those years, he went 59-59 with a 3.86 ERA and 797 strikeouts. His best season came in 2012, when he went 13-9 with a 3.40 ERA and 155 strikeouts in 30 starts.
Niese appeared in six games during the Mets' 2015 playoff run, earning holds in Game 2 of the NLCS against the Cubs and Game 4 of the World Series against the Royals. All told, he allowed three runs, five hits, and struck out six in 5 1/3 innings during the playoff run.
Niese is the third former Met to sign with the Ducks this offseason. Outfielders Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Matt den Dekker joined the team last month. The Ducks open their 20th season in York, Pennsylvania, on April 26 and are coming off three consecutive losses in the Atlantic League Championship Series.
"It's great to bring in players that fans have an affinity for and are popular in the area. That's a great benifit," Pfaff said. "But, really, we're focused on bringing in the best players...Matt and Kirk were the best players available and we were fortunate that we were able to make them Ducks."
New Rules Delay
Two of the 'experimental playing rules' that were set to go into effect this season as per an agreement between the Atlantic League and Major League Baseball have been delayed, the leagues announced Wednesday.
Electronic plate umpire assistance in calling balls and strikes will be implemented gradually throughout 2019, instead of on Opening Day.
The delay will allow for a more comprehensive installation of the system and better umpire training, Atlantic League president Rick White said.
"It'll definitely happen in the first half of the season and I think people will be surprised at how soon it happens after the start of the season," White said. "But, we don't want to lock in a date, find out we made a discovery as we test through this, and have to make an adjustment."
As a consequence to the electronic balls and strikes delay, the pushing back of the pitching rubber to 62 feet, 6 inches will be delayed a year, making its debut in the second half of the 2020 season. That change was originally scheduled for the second half of this season. This delay will eliminate as many variables as possible when Major League Baseball evaluates its effectiveness, White said.
"In order to successfully complete the mound adjustment, Major League Baseball needs a first half of data verses a second half of data," White said. "When we declared that we were going to need the time to train our umpires, we said 'we really are putting in a variable that would ultimately cloud the success of the mound adjustment test."
Other experimental rules will remain unchanged, White said. Those rules include requiring two infielders to be on each side of second base when the pitch is released (effectively eliminating overshifts); a ban on non-pitching change mound visits except in the case of a medical issue; pitchers having to face a minimum of three batters or reach the end of the inning before exiting a game, unless they are injured; increasing the physical size of the bases from 15 to 18 inches square, and reducing the time between innings from 2:05 to 1:45.