Prospect alert: The St. Petersburg Times reported the Devil Rays expect RHPs Jeff Niemann and Mitch Talbot to be ready for the major league rotation by mid-season.
Jeff Niemann is a Rice University alumni and that means he has missed a lot of time due to injury. While pitching only 108 innings over the past two seasons, he has pitched 87.2 of those at the AA level. In those innings, he has struck out 98 batters. His walks are high (35) but offset by a low hits allowed (63). As a result, his AA WHIP is just 1.11. With the Devils Rays intending to recall him this season, Nieman is a sleeper for strikeouts for the stretch run. As a Devil Ray, Wins cannot be counted on, but who doesn't want to add another 100Ks halfway through the season?
Mitch Talbot came over with SS Ben Zobrist in the deal that sent Aubrey Huff to Houston (Creeping towards "steal" status). His 2006 season, split between Houston's and Tampa Bay's AA team, Corpus Christi and Montgomery respectively, resulted in a 10-6 campaign with a 3.73 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and 154 strikeouts in 156.2 innings pitched. Those are good numbers, but the strikeouts and WHIP indicate he is more likely to struggle than Jeff Niemann would. I would not count on 100 strikeouts in half a season of work, but 75 or so would seem fair. Pro-rated, that is 150 over a full-season. That type of starter is typically drafted in most mixed leagues. As such, I consider him a mid-season sleeper, too.
The Devil Rays future is looking brighter as I write. Hopefully, their #1 overall pick this June, Vanderbilt lefty David Price, is more like Mike Pelfrey and less like Wade Townsend (another Rice U. Alumni with injury issues!)