Q&A with Rangers 9th-round pick John Niggli

The Texas Rangers' ninth-round pick in this year's MLB Draft, 22-year-old righty John Niggli is currently pitching in the rookie-level Surprise Rangers' starting rotation. Lone Star Dugout caught up with the California native and Liberty University product for a Q&A.

Right-handed pitcher John Niggli, the Texas Rangers' ninth-round pick in this year's MLB Draft, made his professional debut on Saturday evening.

Pitching for the rookie-level Surprise Rangers, Niggli surrendered three runs on six hits in 2.1 innings, walking one and plunking one. He didn't record a strikeout but induced four groundouts to one flyout.

Saturday's Rookie Rangers game ultimately went 11 innings with an 11-10 final score. It included a seven-run Rangers comeback in the bottom of the eighth inning. In other words, there was plenty of action.

The 22-year-old Niggli is a native of Tulare, Calif., but he spent the final two years of his collegiate career at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. After beginning his career at College of the Sequoias, Niggli moved on to Liberty as a junior and immediately joined the weekend rotation.

In his junior season, the hurler posted a 3.69 ERA while striking out 43 and walking 16 over 85.1 innings. He became the staff ace during his senior campaign this spring, leading the club's pitchers in practically every statistical category.

Over 16 appearances (15 starts), Niggli went 9-4 for the Flames with a 2.17 ERA. He logged 103.2 innings and yielded 103 hits, walking 30 and fanning 68.

Listed at 6-foot-4, 185 pounds, Niggli is regarded as a strike-throwing righty. His fastball generally sits in the upper-80s and touches the low-90s, but this story from the Visalia Times-Delta says he topped out at 94 mph this spring.

Niggli, who signed for a reported $10,000 signing bonus as a college senior, is pitching in the Surprise Rangers' starting rotation.

Jason Cole: What are your thoughts on getting drafted by the Rangers?

John Niggli: I felt great yesterday. I didn't really expect it. I hadn't talked to any Rangers guys all spring. They called me in the morning and asked me if I would sign. I was just pumped up. Then when I saw that I went to them in the ninth, I was shocked. It just felt good.

Cole: Were you expecting to go where you did in the draft?

Niggli: Not really, no. I'd heard a lot of like 10th to 15th. I was shocked. I didn't really think I would go that high.

Cole: Because you didn't expect to go in the ninth round, were you following the draft at all?

Niggli: I was following it, yeah. I had it up and everything. I was looking for some of my buddies that I played with. It was up just in case. One of my buddies that I played with went in the seventh round, so I was watching that.

Cole: Did you find out you'd been picked from seeing it on the computer, or did your area scout call you beforehand and let you know?

Niggli: (Rangers area scout) Jon (George) called me right after the eighth and said they were thinking about getting me in the ninth. He asked if I would sign, and I told him, ‘Yeah, of course.' Then I saw it a little bit later in the ninth.

Cole: As you enter the Rangers' organization, how much do you know about the system?

Niggli: I know quite a bit. I talked to John for awhile about it. All of the coaching and stuff––that Greg Maddux is a pitching coordinator, and you've obviously got Nolan Ryan running the show. He's really involved with everything, so that's awesome. And John kind of told me a little bit about some of the other guys up top.

Cole: You're from California but ended up playing your last two years of college ball in Virginia at Liberty University. How did you end up across the country?

Niggli: I was recruited by one of the assistant coaches at Liberty. He was calling me while I was in JUCO. I was talking to Fresno State and a few other teams in California, and I came on a visit out to Virginia and I liked it a lot. I kind of wanted to go out and just kind of explore something else.

Cole: If you can, talk about yourself as a pitcher a little bit. What kind of pitcher do you view yourself as? What do you have in your repertoire?

Niggli: I'm a contact guy. My numbers kind of show that. I'm a workhorse––I'll throw a lot of innings throughout the year. I stayed healthy all year this year. The pitches I throw––I throw a splitter as probably my out pitch. I've got a slider, a circle change, and a two- and four-seam fastball. Those are all my pitches.

Cole: Your velocity jumped up a tick while you were at Liberty, didn't it?

Niggli: Yeah, I went from probably touching 91 mph in JUCO and then I was touching all the way up to 94 mph this year at Liberty. I think I just kind of grew into my body a little bit.

Cole: How much are you looking forward to getting into pro ball and working with a professional strength training program and all that?

Niggli: Yeah, definitely. I know just putting on 10 to 15 pounds is going to help me a bunch. I'm long and skinny, so you'll see that 10 to 15 pounds will do some good. I've heard nothing but great things about the pitching coaches in the Rangers' organization, so I'm looking forward to that. I told John that I'm willing to get out of here as soon as I can and start working with him.

Cole: Your season at Liberty this year was definitely your best in college. How did you feel about your performance? What did you feel was the difference in taking the step forward?

Niggli: I just had the mindset this year, being the Friday guy, to go out and beat everyone I pitched against. It didn't happen like that every weekend, but I just put a lot of pressure on myself the whole year. Obviously in the championship game in the tournament I didn't do as well as I wanted to. We lost 3-1 to Coastal Carolina. But I felt like I just put a lot of pressure on myself all year and did well.

Cole: I read a story that was written in your hometown paper, and it said that you thought about going into sprint car racing instead of baseball at one point. Is that true?

Niggli: Yeah, I used to race sprint cars in high school. I got out of it around my junior year, I think it was. My dad sold everything. I was kind of debating whether or not to play baseball. Then I talked to one of my buddies' moms and she talked me into going back and playing baseball. I'd played baseball my whole life. I was thinking about dropping baseball and racing, but we kind of got out of racing and started playing ball again my senior year.

Cole: At this point, are you pretty glad that's the decision you came to?

Niggli: (laughs) Yeah. Now that I think about it today, we saved a lot of money by getting out of racing. It worked out, doing this.

Cole: As you look forward to playing this summer, is there anything in your game that you'd like to improve in pro ball?

Niggli: Yeah. I obviously want to get bigger and stronger. I want to work on giving up less hits. I'll probably work on just refining my splitter and my slider a little more––my secondary pitches. I want to keep my velocity up. I want to just refine my stuff and get bigger and stronger. That's what I'm going in there to do––put in the work.

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