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Relief for the Tigers? A look at pitching prospect Joe Jimenez

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The Detroit Tigers have been searching for stability in their bullpen for some time. The answer may be sitting in A-ball in prospect Joe Jimenez.

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My wife is pregnant. So when I’m not picking up any extra writing gigs or shifts I can find to make some extra bankroll, I sit at home with her. Since the Minor League Baseball season is in the books, I read about it. A lot.

Recently, I went back to our own John Sickels’ 2015 Prospect Guide and searched out some of the prospects he labeled sleepers to see how some of them turned out this season. That’s how Joe Jimenez caught my eye.

Here’s what John had to say entering 2015 about Jimenez:

Jimenez destroyed the New York- Penn League last year. He threw in the low-90s when signed but his velocity has picked up, now clocking at 94-98 MPH. The slider and change need more consistency but his control is excellent and even the experienced college hitters populating NY-P rosters had a lot of trouble handling Jimenez. I tell you, the Tigers can find these hard-throwing relievers anywhere. Grade C+.

If Jiminez destroyed the NYPL last year, he annihilated the Midwest League this year. He finished 5-1 with a 1.47 ERA, converting 17 of 20 save chances for the West Michigan Whitecaps. So who is this guy?

Jiminez was signed by the Detroit Tigers in 2013 out of prep school in Puerto Rico. Tabbed the best high school pitcher out of Puerto Rico by most in the know, Jiminez was expected to go in the early rounds of the MLB draft. He unfortunately was asking for a six figure payday, so no one wanted to take the chance. No one but the Tigers, that is, who signed Jiminez shortly after.

As John mentioned, the then 18-year old came to the Tigers with a fastball that hit the low-90s at its max but usually settled in in the high-80s. Somehow, somewhere, Jimenez found some velocity. His fastball has been rumored to touch 100, but hits much more regularly in the high-90s. Maybe it was in the maturation of his 6 foot 3, 220 pound frame, or maybe he is simply learning how to pitch.

Since joining the Tigers, Jimenez has seemingly never had a down moment. He shined in his brief 2013 Gulf Coast League debut (3-0, 0.50 ERA and 0.83 WHIP over eight appearances) and continued his growth in the bullpen in 2014 in the short season NYPL. 

This season saw Jimenez mature into a 20-year old with the goods to one day anchor the back of a bullpen. He struck out 61 batters while walking a mere 11 over his 43 innings of work. That’s good for a 12.7 K/9 rate and an impressive 2.30 BB/9 rate. He limited opponents to a .153 batting average while posting a career best 0.79 WHIP. His work didn’t go unnoticed, he was both a Midwest League Midseason All Star as well as invited to the MLB Futures Game, striking out one over his two-thirds of an inning.

The two things holding Jimenez back seemed to be his fastball control and the development of his slider. Both of those worries seem to be put behind him as many grade his slider in the 55 range, and his control has become precise as a strike thrower. 

I wish I had seen more of Jimenez during the season, so I could report more on how his mechanics developed as the season went on, but his numbers speak volumes. The Tigers have been in need of consistency in their bullpen for years, so Jimenez could be fast tracked next season to be ready for 2017. He has certainly become a prospect to keep a close eye on in 2016.