OCTOBER 27: The Friars have finalized an agreement with Niebla, reports Dennis Lin of the Athletic (Twitter link). As expected, he’ll be the club’s pitching coach in 2022.
OCTOBER 24: The Padres “are locking in on” Indians assistant pitching coach Ruben Niebla as their next pitching coach, ESPN.com’s Buster Olney tweets. The hiring isn’t yet official, though Kevin Acee of The San Diego Union-Tribune reports (via Twitter) that Niebla “is considered all but a done deal” to change teams.
Ben Fritz had been serving as the Padres’ interim pitching coach since Larry Rothschild was fired in late August. According to Acee, the Padres are hoping Fritz remains with the team — Fritz had been working as the bullpen coach before his in-season promotion. It remains to be seen how the rest of the coaching staff will shake out, as bench coach/third base coach Bobby Dickerson has already left the team to join the Phillies, and there could be a wider coaching shakeup once the new San Diego manager is hired (as presumably that new skipper would get some say in assembling the staff).
Niebla will already be in place, however, as the SoCal native will now be moving closer to home for his first official gig as a Major League pitching coach. Niebla briefly served as Cleveland’s interim pitching coach in 2012, his highest rank in 21 seasons with the organization. Much of that first decade was spent as a minor league coach before Niebla joined the MLB staff as a coaching assistant in 2010, and then following his interim gig in 2012, he worked seven seasons as a minor league pitching coordinator. Niebla has been in his current role on the Major League coaching staff for the last two seasons.
At least one familiar face will already be there in San Diego to welcome Niebla, as former Indians hurler Mike Clevinger is expected to be back next season after missing 2021 due to Tommy John surgery. On paper, San Diego has plenty of solid rotation options in place with Joe Musgrove, Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, Chris Paddack, Clevinger, Ryan Weathers, and (around midseason) Adrian Morejon, except injuries and general under-performance ravaged this group last year.
In the bigger picture, the Padres will also surely be looking to pick Niebla’s brain about some of the secrets of Cleveland’s success at drafting and developing pitchers in recent years. While the Padres have had no shortage of promising young pitching prospects, they’ve had issues in converting that potential into success at the big league level. (To wit, all of Musgrove, Darvish, Snell, Paddack, and Clevinger were acquired in trades.)