Niemann, a former first-round pick out of Rice University, remains property of the Tampa Bay Rays. With the rumors put behind him, he bounced back from a rough outing in his previous start, when he walked a season-high six batters on the way to a rough defeat against the Buffalo Bisons on July 29. Still, though, the tall right-hander was not exactly stellar in the Durham Bulls' 12-7 loss to the Charlotte Knights. He worked into the sixth inning, allowing four hits, including two homers, and three earned runs.
Niemann is now 7-5 with a 3.61 ERA and 91-to-38 K/W ratio in 19 games started in the International League. This spring, he made his long-awaited major league debut with the Tampa Bay Rays, who gave him a $5.2 million signing bonus when he was drafted back in 2004, going 1-1 with a 5.79 ERA in only two starts. While injuries have slowed down his progress and dimmed his star a bit, he still projects a solid piece to a major league rotation. However, a lot has changed since 2003, when he moved into the Rice weekend starting rotation and dominated the Western Athletic Conference. Just a sophomore then, he finished with a perfect 17-0 record and 1.70 ERA in 137.1 innings pitched to help his school to its first-ever national title.
Despite an injury during his final season with the Owls, he—along with his college teammates, Phillip Humber and Wade Townsend—Tampa Bay selected him the fourth overall pick the following year.
A few ups and down later—from surgery to a Southern League Championship—he is back with for his second full season with the Bulls. He went 12-6 the first time around in the INT circuit, striking out 123 in 131.0 innings pitched and posting a 3.98 ERA in 25 starts.
While Niemann, 6-foot-9, 280 pounds, no longer possesses the same velocity that he once had, he has an excellent slider and is still only 25 years old. His status as a prospect has taken a hit with the injuries—and he often gets overlooked in such a pitching-heavy organization—he would be the premier minor league arm in a lot of other systems. Look for him to potentially make an impact for the Rays at some point down the stretch.