Baseball BeatOctober 15, 2007
Jimenez and Morales: Not Out of Nowhere
By Rich Lederer

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.


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.


Those posts categorizing minor league pitchers were among the most interesting and informative I have ever read. Glad you referred back to them. And while obviously no one set of criteria is foolproof as an evaluative tool, that one is pretty darn good. As a Rays' fan, I hope that Talbot overcomes the hiccup he had this year to fulfill the hope his place on that grid suggest we may have in him.


I'd like to hear some thoughts on where some of the projections have gone wrong. All things considered, I think Jered Weaver had a somewhat disappointing season.

But that's peanuts compared to one guy I think of. I remember last year you were touting the K/pitch statistic, and through that you identified Dave Bush as an ace in the making and perhaps "The next Chris Carpenter."

Some of the minor league K/9 failures for guys I haven't seen have me wondering why it's everything for some guys and nothing for others. For years I was pretty amazed by Josh Sharpless's K/9 and was interested to see how he did in the majors, but he has garnered no excitement for good reason. You'd think relievers, though, would have a better chance of sticking.

Jermaine Van Buren was another guy who was a big strikeout guy later in his minor league career but got nowhere in the majors.

James Shields had good numbers but he wasn't young for his level and for the most part his strikeout numbers weren't great. Shields was a tough one to peg. He was one of those under-the-radar kind of guys you don't pay any attention to, like Jack Egbert this year.

When it comes to minor league K/9 Buchholz is worth mentioning for sure. Gio Gonzalez and Jacob McGee would have to make the current list.

I don't think one can deem Weaver's season as "disappointing" unless it is measured against his outstanding rookie year in 2006. There is a lot of value wrapped up in a 3.91 ERA/111 ERA+ season. But projections are about more than just one year. Weaver (24-9, 3.33 ERA/131 ERA+, 1.23 WHIP) and Verlander (35-17, 3.74/120, 1.29) have been, by far, the most successful pitchers from the 2004 draft class. I'm not going to say that Weaver has outpitched Verlander but one could certainly make that case based on the numbers above.

Besides Verlander, seven pitchers (Humber, Niemann, Rogers, Sowers, David Bailey, Townsend, and Diamond) were drafted ahead of Weaver. Five of them were also college pitchers and not one has had any success in the big leagues. Other first-round picks out of the college ranks were Purcey, Lambert, Perkins, Tankersley, Campbell, Howell, Jackson, Orenduff, Lumsden, Fox, and Street. Only Street has pitched well in the majors thus far.

If you take a look at the top 20 pitchers in each of the Northeast and Southeast quadrants, I would say that the system identified pitchers who not only fared well in 2006 but were also among the best in 2007. Excluding those who were injured, only four pitchers jump out at me as not coming through this past season. Scott Olsen flopped, Dave Bush regressed, Daniel Cabrera has not panned out, and Mike Mussina is on the back side of his career.

As it relates to the Bush-Carpenter comparison, here is what I had to say in September 2006:

Bush is arguably more like Chris Carpenter than not. They have two of the best Uncle Charlies in the game. Furthermore, these hurlers have similar K and BB rates. The main difference is that last year's Cy Young Award winner does an even better job of keeping the ball on the ground and in the ballpark. Nonetheless, Bush is more advanced than Carpenter at the same age. The latter didn't break out until his first year with the Cardinals when he was 29. Putting Bush in Carpenter's class may be a bit premature, but I believe it captures the younger hurler's upside. Based on his improved command and results of late, it wouldn't surprise me if Bush made a big push in narrowing whatever gap there exists within the next year.

I'm not ready to give up on Bush despite his disappointing season. He only turns 28 next month. He has had a pretty comparable career to this point as Carpenter, who didn't really break out until his 29th birthday. More than anything else, I was trying to point out some similarities between the two while saying that Carpenter represented Bush's upside.