Jimenez and Morales: Not Out of Nowhere
Two of Colorado's four starting pitchers in the postseason are rookies who were not only called up to the Rockies late in the season but have proven to be instrumental as the team moves to within one win of its first World Series appearance ever.
The National League's Wild Card representative has been riding the young arms of Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales to remarkable success. The Rockies have won the last 11 games in which Jimenez and Morales have started. Three of these victories have come in the postseason. Manager Clint Hurdle is handing the ball to Morales tonight and is hoping that the lefthander can extend these streaks to 12 and four by beating the Arizona Diamondbacks in front of Colorado's home fans.
Neither Jimenez nor Morales were unknown to our readers or those who follow minor leaguers closely. During the off-season, I ran a series Categorizing Minor League Pitchers that was designed to identify promising pitching prospects by focusing on strikeout and groundball rates.
Morales, who turned 21 last January, ranked fifth in strikeouts per batter faced (K/BF) in 2006 among all minor league starters with above-average groundball rates. Yovani Gallardo and Philip Hughes made their mark in the majors this year and Wade Davis, who threw a no-hitter, continued to move up the ladder in Tampa Bay's system.
PITCHER AGE ORG LEV K/BF GB% Yovani Gallardo 21 MIL A+/AA 31.70% 47.14% Philip Hughes 21 NYY AA 31.44 50.72 T. J. Nall 26 LAD AA 28.17 46.61 Wade Davis 21 TB A 27.82 48.25 Franklin Morales 21 COL A+ 27.37 53.18
Here is what I had to say about the 6-foot, 170-pound Venezuelan:
Speaking of Liriano, Colorado Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd said Morales has "Francisco Liriano-type ability." The lefthander struck out 16 batters in a 7-inning game last year and has whiffed 369 and walked 176 batters in 315.1 career frames. He works in the mid-90s and has reportedly touched the upper-90s. K/GB types like Morales and Deduno at Coors Field would help mitigate the disadvantage of pitching in such extreme altitude.
Jimenez was spotlighted in Part Four - Double-A. The table from that article (which has been re-printed below) included strikeout and groundball data for every pitcher in Double-A with 50 or more innings.
SOUTHEAST QUADRANT (ABOVE-AVG K AND BELOW-AVG GB RATES)
PITCHER TEAM LG K/BF GB% Dan Smith ATL SL 35.39% 30.53% Tony Sipp CLE EL 33.47% 38.89% Brandon Knight PIT EL 32.82% 35.90% William Lamura CWS SL 31.75% 26.72% Matt Garza MIN EL 30.36% 38.46% Scott Elbert LAD SL 29.57% 29.45% Carlos Marmol CHC SL 29.39% 43.26% Ubaldo Jimenez COL TEX 29.35% 41.42% Marcus McBeth OAK TEX 29.02% 38.19% Yovani Gallardo MIL SL 28.81% 39.68%
In August 2006, I also ran an article Screening for Pitching Prospects in which "I screened all of the minor league statistics to determine the top five starting pitchers in each league, sorted by K/9 with 50 or more IP and a HR/9 rate of less than 0.9 (or one home run per ten innings pitched)."
Not only did Jimenez, who turned 23 last January, lead the Texas League in K/9 but his rate (10.59) was a full strikeout better anyone else. Here is the excerpt from that article:
PITCHER TEAM W-L ERA WHIP K/9 Ubaldo Jimenez TUL/COL 9-2 2.45 1.21 10.59 Mitch Talbot COR/HOU 6-4 3.39 1.36 9.59 Juan Morillo TUL/COL 10-8 4.70 1.54 8.35 Paul Kometani FRI/TEX 5-5 5.60 1.56 7.95 Matt Albers COR/HOU 10-2 2.17 1.23 7.37
Ubaldo Jimenez pitched so well in Double-A early on that he was promoted to Triple-A at the end of June. The 6-foot-2 right-hander has struggled at Colorado Springs (3-2, 6.07 ERA, 1.58 WHIP). To his credit, Jimenez has continued to keep the ball in the high-altitude park (5 HR in 59 1/3 IP) but his strikeout and walk numbers (1.36 K/BB ratio) have suffered. It's way too early to give up on the 22-year-old from the Dominican Republic although he will need to exhibit better command before getting a shot at the big leagues.
Other pitchers of note who ranked in the top five in their respective minor league in K/9 in 2006 and were highlighted in this article included Gallardo, Hughes, Chad Billingsley, Rich Hill, Matt Garza, Carlos Marmol, Dustin McGowan, James Shields, and Jered Weaver – all of whom enjoyed anywhere from moderate to huge success in the majors in 2007.
Jimenez and Morales are excellent examples of the importance of paying attention to the ability to miss bats and age vs. level when it comes to evaluating prospects. Both pitchers still need to improve their command and throw more strikes if they are to reach their full potential. But they have been plenty good enough during the past month. How these rookies perform over the next couple of weeks could go a long way in determining just how high those Rocky Mountain Highs really are.