Despite posting a Midwest-League best 86 wins in 2016, the Clinton LumberKings' highest rated pitching prospect, Nick Neidert, felt unsatisfied come season's end.
"I think losing in the championship series last year, for the Clinton team at least, it put a sour taste in our mouth," Neidert said before 2017 started.
Neidert did everything he could during the LumberKings playoff run in 2016 posting a 1-0 record with a 2.04 ERA in three postseason starts, but ultimately, Clinton fell three-games-to-one in the Midwest League's best-of-five championship series.
"We really want to go get a ring, not just for ourselves but for the Modesto area and for the Seattle Mariners organization," Neidert declared.
Neidert started 2016 in extended spring training before joining the Class-A Clinton LumberKings in May, skipping over the Mariners' short-season affiliate in Everett.
"They were able to keep a closer eye on me there [in extended spring training]" Neidert explained. "And then when I worked up my innings, I was fortunate enough to go to Clinton and be a part of a really good baseball team there."
Part of the reason Clinton was so good was because of Neidert's performance. The Atlanta native went 7-3 with a 2.57 ERA over 19 starts for the LumberKings while walking just 13 batters in 91 innings of work.
"Just trusting my defense behind me," Neidert responded when asked his biggest improvement over last season. "Every single time the ball was put in play, I had 100% confidence and trust in our defense that they were going to make the play. Pitching and defense were definitely at the top of our list, and I think it showed."
The numbers support Neidert's claim. Clinton ranked 2nd in the MWL with a 3.12 ERA, nearly half a run better than the league's average ERA. Defensively, the LumberKings led the league with a .978 fielding percentage. In addition to the pitching and defense, Neidert pointed to Mitch Canham's leadership in the Clinton clubhouse. Canham comes to Modesto in 2017 as the manager along with 15 players that spent time with Clinton last year.
"It was really family oriented. Canham always says we aren't a team, we're a family," Neidert said as he described the chemistry in the clubhouse last year. "And that, I think, shows on the field. We are a very close knit group. He has a really loose atmosphere and kind of lets people be themselves. So if you are a weirdo, you can be weird. Just whatever your personality is, he encourages you to be that person."
Neidert grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta rooting for the Braves and wholly committed to baseball early on.
"My dad just kind of said one year, 'hey you're going to play baseball this year' and I was all for it," Neidert said of his first memories as a player. "I fell in love with it immediately and didn't want to play any other sport."
The only other game that has been able to captivate him has been golf.
"I love to golf. I'm not that good. I like to think I'm good but in reality I'm not that great. My normal handicap is around 10," said Neidert modestly. "My favorite player for the braves was John Smoltz. I just loved to watch him pitch. I loved the person he was and how great of a guy he was. I saw him at a PGA tournament and I got him to sign a golf ball instead of a baseball."
The 20-year-old righty sports an electric fastball and an extremely advanced change-up which has him rated as the #4 prospect in the Mariners system according to Baseball America. After starting 2016 in extended spring training and 2015 in rookie ball, this will be Neidert's first opportunity at a full season in the minor leagues and he is committed to the "Mariners Way."
"It's all about trusting the process of getting better; being a better teammate, being selfless, having fun." Neidert explained. "I really think that develops into winning. I've bought into it especially after seeing every one of our teams in the minor leagues go to the playoffs last year. It's definitely something that helps. Everyone had a really good season last year and hopefully we continue that into this year and continue to buy in."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.