When the 2008 MLB Draft rolls around on June 5, Hialeah, Fla., native Adrian Nieto is expected to be one of the first catchers selected.
A switch-hitter, Nieto is not only known for his outstanding raw power from both sides of the plate, but also for his strong arm behind the dish. The 6-foot-0, 200-pound backstop has been moving up the draft boards lately, largely due to his impressive play late in the high school season. Nieto capped off his high school career by swatting two home runs in the Florida state championship game.
Scout.com's Jason Cole recently sat down with the prospect for a pre-draft interview.
Scout.com: Being from Cuba, it seems that you have a really intriguing background. When and how did you come to the U.S. from Havana?
Adrian Nieto: We left Cuba when I was four years old, about four and a half. We came over on a 20-foot boat made out of wood. It was a real old boat, like 1940s or 1950s. On that boat there were about 22 or 23 people. We were overboard with people. We left around two, three, or four in the morning. Before we left, we got into a huge fight with the people from the town we were leaving. They didn't want us to flee the country. They were communist people and they didn't want us to leave. They were throwing rocks at us or fighting with people on our boat. It was pretty crazy.
Once that got over with, I was sitting on my mom's lap and then I fell asleep. When I woke up again we were out in the middle of the ocean. It was hot and everybody was dehydrated. We were about 75 to 80 miles out there and all of the sudden we decided to give up. We didn't have anymore food or water and the boat had no gas. We decided to give up in hopes that someone would rescue us. We were out there for awhile. We were out there for 13 or 14 hours. Finally we saw the Coast Guard and we started to get his attention. We got the attention of the Coast Guard and he headed towards us and rescued us.
Then they took us to Guantanamo Bay. I was there with my mom and dad for six months and six days. We came over here because we had family over here, like two aunts and an uncle. We came over here and I lived with my aunt for four or five months. It was six of us in a small apartment over here in Hialeah, where I still live. That's when I was five. After that, I started playing baseball.
Scout.com: You started playing baseball at age five, but what age did you start catching at?
Nieto: I started catching when I was in eighth grade, when I was 13 or 14.
Scout.com: What did you play before you caught?
Nieto: Before I caught, I was a shortstop. In Hialeah, I was supposedly one of the best shortstops that had played at that point. I'm not going to lie to you, I was pretty good. I was a shortstop and a pitcher. I threw real hard. I caught every once in awhile, but I wasn't really taking it seriously. I caught the kids that threw really hard on our team because I was the only one that could catch them.
Then once I started playing travel ball around 11 or 12, I started getting bigger and stronger and all that. At the same time, I started getting a little too slow to play shortstop. I started playing third and first and right field. And I still pitched. Once I went to American Heritage, they said because I was a switch-hitter, that if I were a switch-hitting catcher, it would take me very far. They said ‘it will get you to the Major Leagues, where you want to go'. In eighth grade I started playing catcher and that is when I started taking it seriously.
Scout.com: Tell me a little bit about your game defensively. What do you feel your strengths as a catcher are right now?
Nieto: My strength as a catcher right now is my catch-and-throw. I think I am probably the best catch-and-throw guy out there.
Scout.com: Is there an area that you feel you need to improve more than anything else defensively?
Nieto: Not really. At the beginning of the year, I thought it was my receiving. But as the year went on, I started getting better and better. Blocking-wise, the last couple of games I had, I don't think I had any passed balls.
Scout.com: I want to talk about your offensive game. Can you describe your approach at the plate and what you're trying to do when you're up there?
Nieto: When I'm up there, I'm trying to look for a pitch middle-away. I'm trying to give pitchers the inside part because usually they don't pitch me inside. I look middle-away and just try and stay inside the ball to drive the ball the other way. If they come inside, I just react.
Scout.com: Being a switch-hitter, does your approach change depending on whether you're on the left or right side of the plate?
|Nieto has power from both sides of the plate. b>|
Scout.com: When did you start switch-hitting?
Nieto: I started switch-hitting when I was nine. I told my dad that I wanted to try switch-hitting because one day my friend bought that Ken Griffey swing away thing. My friend bought it and he was lefty. So every time I had to go, they had to change it, but it took forever to change it. One time I said ‘no, no, just leave it like that'. So I did it lefty and I did it perfectly – I didn't hit a thing. But then when I did it righty, I kept hitting the thing. After that, I said ‘I'm going to start switch-hitting'. I could do it just as good. Every day I was just hitting off the tee. The first game I played that I hit lefty, I went 3-for-3 with three home runs, so I was like ‘oh yeah, I'm definitely going to keep hitting lefty'.
Scout.com: It seems like you picked up hitting lefty really well. Do you feel it is as good as your right-handed swing right now?
Nieto: Yeah, I really do. People always wonder whether I'm righty or lefty because they aren't sure. They really can't pick out my natural side. They always ask me, ‘do you feel more power righty or lefty?' It's hard because I feel the same both ways. They'll say ‘I saw you at a home run derby hitting righty' and I'm like ‘that's because I felt good hitting righty that day'. It's whatever feels better that day. Both ways I feel the same with power and driving the ball to all fields.
Scout.com: Is there a big leaguer that you would compare yourself to or that you model your game after?
Nieto: Defensively, I model my game after Pudge. That's why I like throwing behind people a lot. When he played that one year with the Marlins, I picked that up from him – his intensity and the way he handles a pitching staff. Offensively, I would probably say either Posada or Victor Martinez.
Scout.com: What college have you signed with?
Nieto: University of South Florida.
Scout.com: What led you choose USF?
Nieto: They were there the whole time. They were one of those schools that kind of waited to see me play. Their coaches are real nice people. Also, the people they've recruited from my class, I'm real good friends with them. Guys like [Anthony] Ferrara and one of my best friends from down here, Adrian Puig from Gulliver. Then when I had the visit, I met even more guys and I was like ‘I really like this group of players that they've got'. But the main thing is that they've been there the whole time. They have always told me ‘we're going to give you everything, this is going to be your team when you get here, and it's your job to lose'. That was the only school to tell me ‘it's your job to lose', that I was going to start there as a freshman.
Scout.com: Are you able to say anything about your chances of going to college versus signing a professional contract?
Nieto: It just depends on if the offer is right. The first team that gets me is the team that's going to sign me. But I really want to play pro ball.
Scout.com: I know you have probably been talking to a lot of teams lately. Where are you expecting to be picked in the draft?
Nieto: Hopefully I go either in the supplemental picks or in the first round. Everybody wants to go up there.
Scout.com: Is your high school season over yet?
Nieto: Yeah, it's over. We ended up winning state.
Scout.com: You have gotten to play your high school ball with another top prospect, first baseman Eric Hosmer. How long have you been playing alongside him and what is that like?
Nieto: I've been playing with him since I was 11 years old. It's an honor to play with one of the best players in the nation. Not only that, his parents are like family – like second parents – to me. They have been taking care of me ever since we started playing together. My parents didn't have the opportunity to go with us to other places because they had to stay down here and work, so they took me under their wing like I was their third child. Eric has another brother. And his mom always says I'm her third child. Me and him are not only teammates, but we're real good friends. We're pretty much brothers.
Scout.com: With you guys playing together for so long, I'm guessing your teams haven't lost much, have they?
Nieto: No, we haven't lost very much. Me and him hate losing. When we play basketball, football or anything like that, we hate losing. We just take pride in everything we do.
Scout.com: Late in the year, I'm sure there were a lot of scouts out there watching you. How did you feel you were able to play down the stretch with everyone watching over you?
Nieto: In the beginning, there was some kind of pressure. But my coaches came and told me to don't worry about it and just play my game. As it came down the stretch, I forgot about it and just let whatever happened, happen. I got better. In the beginning, I felt pressure, like I said, but I just got used to it.
Scout.com: Being on a team with you and Hosmer, I'm sure there were always quite a few scouts around. Before games, do you ever notice them lingering around or do you try and tune that out?
Nieto: You can definitely notice it. We usually start hitting BP around 4, 4:15, or 4:30 and they would get there at 3:00 or 3:15. They would get there for us. You have to notice that. You're not going to walk by there and not notice it.
Scout.com: What has been the best moment of your baseball career so far?
Nieto: So far, it was probably the other day. The last game we played – the state championship. I hit two home runs.