AZUSA, Calif. -- Ruben Niebla, who pitched for two seasons at Azusa Pacific (1994-95) and coached another year (1997), became the first Cougar alum to coach at the highest level of a major professional sports league when the Cleveland Indians promoted him from Triple-A to the Major League coaching staff as the interim pitching coach.
Niebla, who spent the 2011 and 2012 seasons as the pitching coach for Cleveland’s Triple-A affiliate Columbus, is in his 12th season in the Indians organization. In 2011, the Columbus pitching staff posted its lowest team ERA (3.94) since 1992, and this year’s staff had an ERA of 3.91 at the time of his promotion. Five of the Indians’ 13 pitchers currently on the big-league staff pitched for Niebla in Columbus over the last two seasons.
Ironically, Niebla’s final series with Columbus before his promotion came in Durham, a Triple-A affiliate of Tampa Bay which features 2007 Azusa Pacific alum Stephen Vogt. Vogt, who is a career .290 hitter at the Triple-A level, was 1-for-9 in this week’s series against the Niebla-mentored Columbus pitching staff.
Niebla had a six-year professional playing career, playing for the Expos and Dodgers organizations from 1995-2000, and he compiled 20 wins in his two collegiate seasons at Azusa Pacific which currently ranks ninth on the program’s all-time wins list. As a 1994 junior, he was 9-2 with a 2.39 ERA, earning NAIA District Player of the Year, All-GSAC first team, and NAIA All-American honorable mention. In 1995, he led the Cougars to the GSAC championship and NAIA regionals with an 11-3 mark and a 2.76 ERA. He was the Cougars’ strikeout leader both seasons, finishing with 143 strikeouts in 224 innings.