Since Jimenez looks like he’s going to be an awfully good pitcher for a while, no matter how many wins he winds up with in 2010, I thought it was worthwhile to gather up a few things on him that perhaps have escaped notice. This Rocky Mountain News profile of him seven years ago, in mid-June 2003, talked about Jimenez when he was in Asheville, North Carolina:
Halfway through the season, Class A Asheville pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez has made steady progress. The strides he makes in the balance of the season could be more dramatic.
Jimenez, 19, is in his first full professional season. He has gone 4-3 with a 4.40 earned-run average in 14 starts and has held opposing batters to a .230 average.
”It’ll be interesting to see how he finishes this league up,” Asheville pitching coach Mike Arner said. ”I would say he’s going to dominate in August, if he stays on the track he’s on, because he’s constantly learning. He’s always asking questions.”
In his first seven starts, Jimenez pitched six innings once and went 2-2 with a 4.96 ERA in those outings. Omitting a May 18 start reduced by rain to one inning, Jimenez has pitched at least six innings in his other six starts, going 2-1, 3.79.
”He’s starting to understand he needs to make the guys try and swing the bats and not try to strike everyone out,” Arner said. ”Early in the year, he was trying to strike every hitter out and going five innings with 100 pitches.”
Jimenez has been up to 93 to 94 mph with his fastball and usually will pitch at 91 to 92 mph. Arner said Jimenez has the capability to pitch at 93 mph.
At times, Jimenez will show a decent sinker. But Arner said that because Jimenez, like any young pitcher, has a tendency to want to see a lot of movement on that pitch, it ends up staying flat.
Arner said that when Jimenez starts to get consistency with his curveball, that pitch, which has a sharp, late break, definitely will be his out pitch.
Jimenez’s changeup is decent in the bullpen, Arner said, and will be a good pitch once he just relaxes and throws it the same way in games. But because he’s too amped up, Arner said, Jimenez overthrows his changeup and doesn’t throw it for strikes.
Jimenez, who is from San Cristobal, Dominican Republic, received a $30,000 bonus April 25, 2001, when he was signed by Rolando Fernandez, the Rockies director of operations in Latin America. Jimenez was throwing 85 to 86 mph at the age of 16 when Fernandez first saw him and 87 mph when he signed with the Rockies.
”The velocity was OK,” Fernandez said, ”but he had a feel back then for his curveball. He didn’t throw it for a strike. But the rotation was there. The bite was there. I think that’s what really caught my eye, and, of course, the projection of the body, because he was 6-2 and 165.”
Fernandez expected Jimenez, who now is 6-feet-4 and 198 pounds, would spend a second season in the Dominican Summer League last year. But when the Rockies opened their Dominican academy Feb. 1 in Boca Chica, Jimenez advanced so much from then through June, he earned the opportunity to come to the United States and pitch at rookie-level Casper.
”The progress he made then was incredible,” Fernandez said, ”because I was going to leave him one more year in the Dominican. This kid just kept getting stronger and gaining velocity. His mechanics and control improved. When he first signed, the projection was there, but he was very raw.”
Three years later, Jimenez made his AAA debut on June 30, 2006, and Bob Stephens of the Colorado Springs Gazette reported:
Potential is wonderful. Performance is better. Ubaldo Jimenez had a lot of the former and not enough of the latter Friday night.
The young fireballer lost his first outing with the Colorado Springs Sky Sox before a crowd of 5,580 at Security Service Field as Jon Knott homered and tripled twice for five RBIs to lead the Portland Beavers to a 7-3 victory.
Sky Sox runs came on Ryan Shealy’s two-run homer, his team-high 13th, and Chris Iannetta’s solo shot. It was Iannetta’s first homer since he was promoted from Double-A Tulsa on Monday.
Jimenez had won seven straight decisions for Tulsa but allowed six earned runs in 53 innings in his Triple-A debut.
“Baseball people know that when a guy is in a groove at one level, it’s hard to carry that over to the next level,” said Sky Sox manager Tom Runnells. “It rarely happens.”
Jimenez was sensational in his past five starts for Tulsa. He didn’t allow a run in his past 23 innings and gave up 10 hits in his final 32 innings.
“I can’t wait for (Jimenez) to get comfortable here,” said Sky Sox leadoff man Jeff Salazar. “We all know how good he can be. He’s going to be exciting to watch in the big leagues for a long time, I think.”
The 6-foot-4 right-hander has a fastball consistently in the mid-90s but left too many up in the strike zone, leading to nine hits. He walked three and struck out four.
Runnells expected an adjustment period for the 22-year-old from the Dominican Republic who originally signed with the Rockies at 16. Jimenez is on the Rockies’ 40-man roster and has been listed as the organization’s fifth-best prospect by Baseball America the past two years.
Jimenez said he had trouble adjusting to the altitude but also must improve his curveball, which is an ongoing project.
“It was hard to breathe,” Jimenez said.
Jimenez adjusted well enough to the altitude and to AAA ball to move up to the Rockies in time to start their final game of 2006, on October 1. Tracy Ringolsby of the Rocky Mountain News said he
gave a glimpse of what could be in the Rockies’ season-ending 8-5 loss to the Cubs at Wrigley Field, providing an impressive effort in his first big league start, only to see the bullpen let the game slip away.
“He was the complete package, very impressive,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “He deserved better backing.” . . .
Jimenez was charged with four runs, three earned, in 6 2/3 innings, leaving with a 4-2 lead and two men on base only two see both score – one when Johnny Cedeno greeted reliever Jeremy Affeldt with a single and the other when shortstop Clint Barmes booted what should have been Angel Pagan’s inning-ending ground ball.
Juan Pierre then singled home the go-ahead run before Jose Mesa got the final out in the seventh, only to see the Cubs rally for three more runs off Manny Corpas and Tom Martin in the eighth.
Garrett Atkins provided a ninth-inning farewell to the season, hitting his 29th home run, but there was to be no repeat of the Rockies’ wacky 10-8, 14-inning win Saturday when they rallied after blowing an 8-0 lead.
The focus in the finale, though, was on Jimenez, the fourth of four rookies who was afforded a final-month start to give Hurdle and his staff a first-hand glimpse. Jimenez was impressive, his one glitch an Aramis Ramirez home run on an 0-2 pitch after giving up a leadoff walk to Ryan Theriot in the fourth.
He allowed only four of the first 20 batters he faced to reach base, until, with two out in the seventh, he gave up a single to Scott Moore and walked Henry Blanco.
“Those last two hitters I tried to do too much,” Jimenez said. . . .
“Obviously he had an opportunity (Sunday), and he made a wonderful impression,” Hurdle said. “There was a separation (from the other rookies) there. . . . He used all his pitches. He threw the breaking ball early in the count. He had a fastball in the mid-90s. He kept left-handed hitters off-balance with the change and threw the curveball to right-handed hitters early and late in the count.”
Finally, this February Troy Renck of the Denver Post profiled Jimenez as potentially ready for a breakthrough performance in 2010:
“I need better fastball command to take that next step,” said Jimenez, who went 15-12 with a 3.47 ERA last season. “If you can throw the fastball where you want, it means everything.”
At 26 and entering his third full season, Jimenez is more interested in long-term success than short-term recognition. He has made himself a better bunter. And he has evolved into a terrific fielder. But to become pure acid reflux for hitters, Jimenez must throw more fastball strikes early in games.
Here’s why, explained manager Jim Tracy.
“Of course, 97 miles per hour is great, but 94 to 95 well-located at the knees is even better,” he said. “If he can do that the first few times through the lineup, just think how much more effective his off-speed pitches will be later in the game, when the other team hasn’t seen them much. We’d be in business.”
It’s not that Jimenez doesn’t trust his fastball. According to Inside Edge scouting services, he threw it 64 percent of the time last season.
Sometimes he will get too cute, using the changeup or slider against weaker hitters, such as when former Dodgers pitcher Randy Wolf rapped a game-winning single on a curveball last year.
“There are games I feel like I have so many good pitches that I don’t want to stick with just one. But I don’t need to go back and look at video; the video of the mistakes is in my head,” Jimenez said. “I know the hitters better, and I am learning to make adjustments.”
Jimenez, who is 6-feet-4, 207 pounds, turned into a beast last season, working at least six innings in 29 starts, including 25 in a row from May 1 to Sept. 7. He credits pitching coach Bob Apodaca and Tracy for sparking his U-turn after he went 1-3 with a 7.58 ERA in April.
Apodaca helped fix Jimenez’s mechanics, specifically getting him to take the ball out of his glove more quickly when he starts his windup. Tracy, meanwhile, puffed out the right-hander’s chest.
“When he became manager, he called me into his office and the first thing he told me was, ‘I don’t want to take you out of the game. I want you to win or lose it.’ Hearing that gave me a lot of confidence,” said Jimenez, whom Tracy has nicknamed “The Chief.” “Before he was the manager, I was always looking over my shoulder when I got into the fifth inning. I loved having more responsibility.”
For the Rockies to win their first National League West crown, they need more victories from their ace in waiting.
Apodaca has been pleased with Jimenez’s spring-training approach thus far, saying: “He’s been assertive in everything he does. Before he was quiet as a mouse, and now he doesn’t even hesitate to give his opinion.”
Everything is in reach – from the franchise’s single- season win record (17), to Cy Young Award contention.
“He’s one of those guys, along with (Tim) Lincecum and (Adam) Wainwright, that are going to be the next generation of great pitchers,” said TBS analyst Ron Darling.
Added Rockies closer Huston Street: “He throws easy cheese. He doesn’t have a ceiling.” . . .
“If my team thinks that I am an ace, why shouldn’t I think the same?” Jimenez said. “I want to live up to their expectations.”