Eduardo Jimenez was almost a victim of the Detroit Tigers’ improved organizational depth. In years past, a hard throwing relief prospect may have found himself listed in the teens of the team’s prospect rankings. Now, a pitcher like Jimenez has a lot of company at the back of our list and beyond. Bless You Boys thinks just enough of his potential to give him the final spot in our top 30 prospects.
Jimenez has a little more polish than other high 90s arms at his level. While he didn’t reach Single-A West Michigan until his age 22 season in 2017, there is still reason to think he could move quickly in 2018. In recent years, we’ve seen relief pitchers like Joe Jimenez (no relation), Zac Reininger and Jairo Labourt move multiple levels in a season. With modest improvement this year, Jimenez could earn himself his first cup of coffee in the majors late in 2018.
The Tigers added him to the 40-man roster this offseason, so they clearly still want to give him time to develop. But he will have to handle the Double-A jump first.
The Tigers signed Jimenez out of Venezuela as a teenager in 2011. He was slated to make his stateside debut in 2014, but he missed the entire season, going under the knife for Tommy John surgery. Other than a handful of rookie ball innings in 2015, Jimenez didn’t really return until midway through the 2016 campaign. There, he joined the Connecticut Tigers in short season A-ball and acquitted himself very well, posting the highest strikeout rates of his young career. He backed that with a strong performance for Single-A West Michigan in 2017. He wasn’t quite so dominant in his short stint in the Florida State League, though.
Jimenez isn’t a particularly large specimen, listed at 6’1, 190 pounds, but his fastball is imposing. The righthander sits comfortably above 95 miles per hour and will ramp a lively fastball up near triple digits with sink and late life when he wants it. Jimenez has posted ground ball percentages above 50 percent at Connecticut and West Michigan in the past two seasons, and the plane and life on his fastball are a big reason why.
TigsTown’s Mark Anderson describes Jimenez’s fastball as:
“mid-90s heat and touching the upper-90s, though his fastball comes with heavy life down in the zone that can make it early impossible for hitters to lift.”
He backs that power fastball with solid control and a quality slider that blossomed into a real swing and miss offering this season. According to TigsTown, the slider has improved considerably and now flashes plus at times. His nascent changeup still isn’t much of a factor. With West Michigan, Jimenez posted a 1.04 ERA and a WHIP of 0.90. He also struck out 32.8 percent of batters he faced, walking just 7.5 percent. Those kind of ratios will get a parent club excited.
The big bump in strikeouts since his return from surgery, as well as his fully rehabilitated fastball, were great signs for a young reliever pitching his first full season since 2013.
Jimenez needs to continue taking steps with his command and in throwing his secondary pitches with more consistency. His slider will flash plus, but it’s generally more of a league average offering. This is typical required progress from a relief prospect, but also the steps that separate the ones that make it from the many who don’t. If Jimenez can throw his best slider more often and continue developing his command, he could move quickly.
Unfortunately, there was also an disciplinary issue in 2017 that is going to follow him a while. Jimenez was suspended 30 games in June for throwing a baseball at opposing players during a fracas between the Whitecaps and the Dayton Dragons in late May. Whitecaps manager Mike Rabelo had serious conversations with Jimenez afterward, as did members of the front office. Presumably such stupidity won’t be a recurrent theme. Reports are that the incident was highly out of character for him, but Jimenez did short circuit an absolutely dominant run he was on with the Whitecaps.
For a pitcher in his second year back from Tommy John surgery, the rest may actually have been good for him. Unfortunately, he didn’t quite return to the level he had previously shown once he moved up to Lakeland in July. Jimenez didn’t fare quite so well in 16 1⁄3 innings in the Florida State League, but it was largely the result of a couple bad outings early in his time there. He allowed three runs in 10 innings of work in August, and overall he continued to throw strikes, keeping his walk rate down. His command still needs refinement, but he has pretty good feel and control, especially considering that his is a fairly inexperienced arm for his age.
Projected Team: Advanced-A Lakeland Flying Tigers
Jimenez has the raw stuff to compete in the major leagues in some fashion already. He will need consistency from his breaking ball and improvements in command and maturity to get there. Heading into his age 23 season, the Tigers will hope he gets off to a good start in the Florida State League and makes an early jump to Double-A Erie. If Jimenez can’t show an ability to carry a strong strikeout-to-walk ratio through at least Double-A in 2018, the Tigers will have a difficult decision to make on whether to roster him next year.
Despite taking so long to get to full-season ball, Jimenez is still quite inexperienced for his age. He has just 173 1⁄3 career minor league innings under his belt, and over 100 of those came in the Venezuelan leagues in 2012 and 2013. The progress he made last season put him on the radar as a guy capable of making a big move this season. If anyone from the back end of our list shows up in September to throw some innings, Jimenez is probably a good bet to be that guy.