Thursday, December 30, 2010

Where are they now ... Lance Niekro (SF Giants: 2003-07)

Third installment in this series ...

At the end of the 2005 season, the Giants parted ways with longtime first baseman J.T. Snow, and in 2006 the duties were handed over to Lance Niekro, but it was short -lived.

Lance was drafted by the Giants in the 2000 amateur draft in the 2nd round (61st overall) after playing collegiate baseball at Florida Southern College, a Division II school of the Sunshine State Conference. After signing with the Giants, Lance quickly moved up the ranks of the minor leagues and was called up to the Bigs in 2003. The very next season, Lance remained in the minors, mostly in AAA Fresno while playing first base for the Grizzlies. In 2005, Lance was with the big club, and platooned at first base with long time Giant, J.T. Snow. After having a promising showing in the '05 season by belting 12 home runs, 46 RBI, and hitting .252., Lance was given the chance to start at first base in 2006, but he failed to recapture the lightning from '05 and struggled at the plate and was eventually sent down to Fresno. 2007 wasn't any better for Lance, and he again was called up to the Bigs, but only appeared in 11 games. After the '07 campaign, the Giants released him and granted him free agency.

In 2008, Lance signed with the Houston Astros, but nagging injuries ended his season after appearing only in 17 games for the their AAA club. At that point, Lance retired from the game, but after missing most the rest of the '08 season, Lance decided to make a comeback but as a knuckleball pitcher. The Atlanta Braves were intrigued at the prospect of having a knuckleballer and took a flyer by signing him. In 2009, Lance appeared in 14 games for the Braves rookie league team, but he failed to achieve any success as pitcher. He posted a 1-3 record, 5.61 ERA in 33.2 innings while striking out 22 and walking 17. After a disappointing comeback, Lance officially retired from professional baseball.

Where is he now? On July 15, 2010, Lance returned to his alma mater, Florida Southern College, and joined their baseball program by becoming their new assistant coach. "When I found out the job was open, it seemed like a natural fit for me, being from Lakeland and having played at Florida Southern," Niekro said.  "I want to stay involved in baseball and I’m looking forward to helping the Moccasins continue to be one of the top college baseball programs in the country." The Moccasins open the 2011 season on Feb. 4 vs. St. Thomas.

When I first saw Lance play, I thought he had a shot on becoming the heir apparent to J.T. Snow, but a series of injuries, lack of adjusting his hitting approach, and the death of his father ended up being too much for him. Hopefully, he's found his calling as a baseball coach and can develop some future Major Leaguers.

Lance Niekro

Lance handling first base duties

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