Winter Hot Stove – Pair of Pitchers Join Flock

The Ducks roster for 2014 doubled in size on Monday with the announcement of two more player signings. Left-handed pitcher Eric Niesen will be returning to Long Island with the hopes of adding a third consecutive Atlantic League championship ring to his resume. Casey Barnes will begin his first season with the Flock after he was acquired from the River City Rascals of the Frontier League in exchange for future considerations. With that, the first two members of the pitching staff have been chosen and agreed to play on Long Island.

“We have same coaching staff, and I’m hoping a lot of the same players come back,” Niesen said in an interview on Wednesday. “The area and the way I’ve been treated over the past two years have been great. It’s a good opportunity, and obviously we’re a winning program, so it just made sense. I know ‘Fookie’ [pitching coach Steve Foucault], and I know ‘KB’ [manager Kevin Baez] really well. I know what I’m going to get out of them, so it was kind of an easy decision when it comes down to things like that.”

Niesen has been a force out of the Ducks bullpen during their back-to-back championship runs. In 2012, he spent the entire season with the team and finished second on the roster in appearances with 57. Only Jeremy Hill had more with 63. The southpaw went 3-2 with a 3.89 ERA, but his most impressive stat was the 64 batters he struck out in 69 and one-third innings. He became primarily the lefty specialist out of the bullpen in the playoffs, pitching in seven games, and earned key outs against both lefties he faced in Game Five of both the Liberty Division and Atlantic League Championship Series.

2013 began extremely well again for the Michigan native, as he went 4-0 over 35 games with a 3.23 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 39 innings. Niesen had become a key ingredient in a dominant back-end of the bullpen. He and Ian Snell would share the sixth and seventh inning duties, Jared Lansford controlled the eighth inning and Leo Rosales would close the game in the ninth. When the Ducks found success in the First Half last year, relief corps was a big reason why. Niesen’s success earned him a contract with the Boston Red Sox organization in July, and for the first time in his seven-year career, he would pitch at the Triple-A level. He pitched two games with Pawtucket and 12 more with Double-A Portland before the season came to a close.

“It was just a big blessing in my life. It was like a prayer had been answered,” he recalled. “It was kind of a hectic time actually because it was during the All-Star break , and I came home and visited my wife. I only had a small bag of clothes because I was only going to be home for a couple of days and come back to Long Island. I got a phone call the very first day I arrived, and they said the Red Sox wanted to pick me up and send me to Triple-A which was a new level I had never been to. I’ve been to big league camp and Double-A but never Triple-A, so to go right from the Atlantic League to Triple-A was definitely a blessing. I was excited, and I was just so thankful for the Red Sox organization to give me that opportunity. Once I got there, they treated me great. All the players were great, and to actually be a part of the organization that won the World Series was actually a pretty cool thing in itself.”

Unless another Major League organization calls, the lefty will now be back with the Flock in 2014. Ducks fans can expect him to once again be an important piece of the bullpen, especially in the later innings. Niesen has an overpowering fastball that comes in at 90-94 miles per hour along with a big breaking ball that drops in at 77-80. Not to mention, he throws them at a three-quarter arm slot which makes the pitches even more deceptive. When he throws both for strikes, his arsenal is difficult to counter for hitters. The movement and lower velocity on his curveball and hard slider make the fastball appear even to have even more life.

Ducks fans should be excited to have Niesen back for not only his pitching ability but for his personality as well. He is one of the friendliest and most welcoming ballplayers the organization has seen and can always be seen signing autographs and smiling while wearing the uniform. He is also very religious man and holds his faith close to him while at the ballpark and in all walks of life. Ultimately, his goal on the baseball diamond continues to remain the same: win a championship.

“Obviously, any time you play a baseball season you want to win, so that’s always going to be first and foremost concern,” he said. “Going in with the Ducks, you want to go and see where you fit. I’d love a bigger role, but I’d love to do anything the team asks me to do. I’ve done a lot of different things for them in the past, whether it’s start, spot start, close and a couple of situations in the set-up role. Those are all roles that I love. To go in there for another year, have a third year being there and knowing the coaches, I’m excited to see what we’ve got in store.”

Barnes, who is currently pitching in the Australian Baseball League with the Brisbane Bandits, comes to the Ducks after three successful seasons in the independent Frontier League. He was acquired in a trade from the River City Rascals in exchange for future considerations and brings impressive numbers to the table. With River City, he went 7-3 with a 3.68 ERA in 20 starts, striking out 66 in 120 innings. He came to River City via a trade with the Washington Wild Things, where he had spent the previous two seasons.

In his two years with Washington, the right-hander posted a 3.11 ERA and 117 strikeouts in 32 starts along with a pair of complete games. His strong 2011 season earned him the starting pitcher nod at the Frontier League All-Star Game, where he picked up the victory, and a contract with the Philadelphia Phillies organization. While his stint with the Phillies lasted just three starts in the Gulf Coast League and two appearances with Single-A Williamsport, the opportunity to pitch in a Major League organization was extremely special for Barnes.

Now with the Ducks, the Arizona native hopes to lead Long Island to its third consecutive championship. He is penciled in to be the team’s #5 starter, and if he can continue the success he has found in the Frontier League, Long Island will have a pretty strong fifth starter. He doesn’t strike out a great deal of batters, just 132 in 238 innings over the two seasons, but he limits damage greatly. In his 20 starts during the 2013 season, he allowed three earned runs or less in all but three.  Barnes can definitely be a solid back-end of the rotation pitcher for the Ducks, and he is no doubt excited at the prospect of bringing another championship trophy to Bethpage Ballpark.

What do you think of the two newest signings for the Ducks? Let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment on this post. As always, keep it here for all the analysis and quotes regarding any Ducks player signings during the course of the offseason. We’ll have more for you later this week regarding the final results from the Caribbean Leagues Championship Series games, including another trophy for Lew Ford.


Posted on January 29, 2014, in Player Signings, Winter Hot Stove and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Seems like there are some good players staying and joining the Ducks, which will enhance an already good team. I look forward to hearing more about Lew Ford and his latest Duck Tales.

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