The San Diego Padres hired Ruben Niebla on Wednesday, October 27, filling the pitching coach role that Larry Rothschild left when he was fired on August 23.
Niebla had been in the Cleveland organization for the previous 20 years, working the last two as the assistant pitching coach. With the Padres’ managerial spot still vacant, it is certain that any future manager of the Padres will need to gel with Niebla, who general manager A.J. Preller hired.
After spending six years in the minor leagues of the Montreal Expos and Los Angeles Dodgers as a pitcher, Niebla quickly transitioned into a coaching role, joining the player development team. He worked his way up the minor-league ladder, eventually becoming the pitching coach in Triple-A Columbus. Niebla did work as the interim pitching coach for two months in 2012 after Scott Radinsky was fired.
After the 2012 season, Niebla became the pitching coordinator for all of Cleveland’s minor league affiliates, a role that he stayed in until 2020. 2020 NL Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer spent 29 games in the minor leagues in Niebla’s tenure, while 2020 AL Cy Young winner Shane Bieber spent 50 games in Cleveland’s minor leagues over the same time frame.
In Niebla’s first season at the major league level, Cleveland’s pitchers posted the third-best ERA of any team, and Bieber won his first Cy Young, helping Cleveland into the postseason. Cleveland’s pitching staff struggled in 2021, although injuries to Bieber and Zach Plesac meant their rotation was mainly built out of spare parts. Cal Quantrill and Aaron Civale each posted career-best numbers in seasons where they pitched at least 50 innings, meaning that it was a relatively impressive season from Cleveland’s pitchers, considering the circumstances.
Niebla was instrumental in the development of top young pitchers Triston McKenzie and J.C. Mejia, and it’s possible he’d be able to help Ryan Weathers and Chris Paddack with the struggles they endured in their 2021 seasons. He also produced a spectacular 1.29 ERA from closer Emmanuel Clase, so he’s been able to work with bullpen pitchers as well.
He wasn’t fired from his job in Cleveland. The opportunity to move to a role as pitching coach rather than assistant pitching coach was too lucrative to pass up for Niebla. He will work outside the Cleveland organization for the first time since 2001. The new coach will be given a talented pitching staff, with a Cy Young winner, and two players that have finished in the top five in voting in the past two seasons, although they did struggle in 2021.
It is somewhat surprising that the Padres chose to hire Niebla before hiring a manager, as new managers typically get a say in who goes in their coaching staff. But with Niebla one of the top pitching coaches on the market, the Padres felt they had to act fast. It’ll be interesting to see if his hiring affects the Padres managerial search in any way.