Scouting Yankees Prospect #46: Luis Niebla

Niebla can throw strikes with his eyes closed

The Yankees signed right-handed pitcher Luis Niebla out of Mexico in 2011. He has shown an excellent combination of control and stuff through his first two professional seasons, and internally the Yankees compare him favorably to a former Yankee pitching prospect who has reached the big league level.

Vital Statistics:
Name: Luis Niebla
Position: Pitcher
DOB: January 14, 1991
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 180
Bats: Right
Throws: Right

He went 5-2 with a 4.29 ERA for the Gulf Coast League Yankees in 2012 in what was his first taste of professional baseball in the United States and wound up leading the staff in innings pitched [42].

"I went through some good things and some bad things but overall it was a good year," Niebla told PinstripesPlus.com through the help of a translator. "It took some getting used to the weather, the level of play, and to figure out how to throw a couple of pitches."

A pronounced strike-thrower despite his lack of experience, one who has walked just eleven batters through his first 75 1/3 career innings, Niebla has always shown an above average fastball-changeup combination ever since stepping into the organization.

Often compared to former Yankee pitching prospect and current Seattle Mariners' hurler Hector Noesi because of his similarly easy arm motion and ability to throw strikes, like Noesi, Niebla is spending his lower minor league level days working on incorporating a curveball into his repertoire rather than a slider in an effort to slow opposing hitters' bats down.

"I used to throw a slider and now I'm throwing a curveball," he said. "Everything has changed, the grip, the command, everything. Now I feel comfortable with it. Through the season I didn't have much confidence with it."

A much slower and loopier curveball when he first began throwing it, he was able to tighten it up and throw it harder by season's end, and locate it a lot more consistently during Instructional League in particular.

"That's what I'm working on at [both] Instructs. Because I didn't have a curveball before I just really needed the repetitions to get comfortable with the grip, arm angle, and everything. I just needed the reps.

"I still have my slider but I know I need another pitch, an out-pitch. To have a new pitch is very important."

Just like Noesi before him, Niebla has now quickly evolved into a four-pitch hurler and has a very strong foundation from which to build upon going forward.

"I expected to have a better year but I also didn't expect to include a curveball in my repertoire," he said. "I also had to make a couple of changes to my mechanics. I'm getting better and I want to get even better [going forward].

"I feel better. I'm much more confident with my curveball and I'm very comfortable with my mechanics now because I was working on [both of them] throughout the season."

So while he continues to work on all four pitches which on any given day could be above average big league pitches and showing advanced stuff at the lower levels, Niebla also has a lot of room to grow and that gives him exciting long-term potential.

"I've been working on them [the mechanics] to get the lower strike and I'm more comfortable with that too.

"I have a lot to get better at. I feel like I have a lot of room for improvement. For me this is point zero, the first step. I'm only going to get better from here," he concluded.

Year

Team

W-L

SV

IP

H

BB

SO

ERA

2012

GCL Yankees

5-2

0

42.0

50

7

32

4.29

2011

DSL Yankees2

6-1

0

31.1

20

4

31

1.72



Repertoire. Fastball, Curveball, Slider, Changeup.

Fastball. The comparisons to Hector Noesi are a bit uncanny and it really begins with the fastball. While he has yet to top out at 97 mph like Noesi had shown in A-ball, he too sits comfortably in the 90-94 mph range and does it with such an effortless motion that opposing batters get the feeling it is coming in even harder. He also can throw strikes with his eyes closed when it comes to his fastball. However, just as was the case with Noesi, while the control is superb the command can be spotty, often times leaving it up in the zone a bit too high. That will be the next big step in his development -- keeping his fastball down more consistently in the strike zone.

Other Pitches. It's rare for a rookie level pitcher to have three secondary pitches in his arsenal but that's exactly what Niebla boasts already. His changeup is big league average most days and can flash above average potential at times. The arm speed is there but the fade and sink can be inconsistent. His slider [which is shelved for now] was his favorite go-to offspeed offering, but at 82-85 mph, which is roughly the same velocity range as his changeup, he needed a slower pitch to give batters another eye level so the Yankees had him incorporate a curveball into his repertoire too. It sat mostly in the 71-73 mph range during the season but then began to spike up to a more respectable 76-77 mph area by the time Instructs rolled around. Both breaking balls are above average pitches when they're going right.

Pitching. Niebla is in full attack mode from the moment he steps on to the mound. He pounds the zone with an array of pitches and seldom pitches behind in the count, which is a good sign for a young pitcher. While that is a big-time positive, it can also be his downfall at times because he doesn't really expand the zone enough when he is ahead in the count. He also has such an ease of motion that it not only helps deceive batters but it allows him to pitch deep into games. Combine that with his strike-throwing efficiency, he is a bullpen's best friend. He also shows good athleticism on the mound and that should mean a real long-term ability to hold runners and field his position well.

Projection. Niebla has all of the fundamentals in place to project as a potential middle to back-end big league starting pitcher someday; four big league pitches, superb control and strike-throwing ability, easy throwing motion, athleticism, and efficiency. He is, however, almost too efficient and will have to learn how to expand the zone and waste some pitches just to keep hitters honest as he moves up the minor league ladder. As solid as he is right now there's still some considerable untapped potential. His command could get much better, especially in the lower-half of the zone, and his stuff could develop more, including potentially throwing a tick or two harder with his fastball. He compares to Hector Noesi in almost every way but the hope is his command in the lower-half develops better by the time he gets to the big leagues.

ETA. 2016. While Niebla is very young when it comes to experience he isn't exactly young in terms of actual age. He will be 22 years at the start of the 2013 season and will need to move somewhat quickly at some point. He's a candidate to break camp with the Charleston RiverDogs but the Yankees could take it slower with him for one more season and start him in Staten Island before accelerating his track.

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