After rotating through closers in years past, Joe Jimenez may be the long-term option the Detroit Tigers have been looking for. Expect a long and productive career spent closing games in Motown for Jimenez.
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The Detroit Tigers have had well-known bullpen issues in years past. Some of these issues stemmed from different closers being unable to hang onto their jobs for one reason or another.
Jose Valverde excelled in his first two seasons, but struggled mightily towards the end of his tenure with the club, and was cut. Detroit then made the befuddling move of letting Joaquin Benoit walk in free agency. The reliever excelled in 2013 as Valverde’s replacement, but the team didn’t re-sign him.
Next was Joe Nathan. Unlike Papa Grande and Benoit, Nathan never experienced any kind of success in Motown. The veteran’s only full season in a Detroit uniform saw him post a 4.81 ERA and 3.94 FIP in 58 innings. Hardly inspiring stuff from a closer.
Joakim Soria couldn’t keep his roster spot, but not for lack of trying. The reliever pitched to a 2.85 ERA and 23 saves in 43 appearances. However, the Tigers failed to put enough wins together, and Soria was traded. Francisco Rodriguez is the latest to take up the mantle. While Rodriguez will likely solidify the current bullpen, he’s 34-years-old and won’t pitch forever.
Despite the recent instability, the Detroit Tigers seem set for the future with prospect Joe Jimenez.
The 21-year-old, who was singed in late June of 2013, has all the makings of a shutdown closer thanks to an excellent two-pitch arsenal that includes a blazing fastball. MLB.com writes that “the right-hander from Puerto Rico has been up to 97-98 mph.” Baseball Prospectus concurs, nothing that Jimenez’ heater “sits in the mid-90s, consistently touching higher, with the occasional report of triple-digits.”
In addition to a fastball, the right-handed pitcher also throws a hard slider that MLB.com opines that it “has a chance to be a plus pitch.”
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Since joining the Detroit organization in 2013, the reliever has been nothing short of dominant. His career minor-league ERA is a tidy 1.64. What’s more, Jimenez has a staggering 126 strikeouts in only 87.2 innings pitched.
His fastball-slider combination has helped him breeze through the low minors.
During the 2013 season, Jimenez pitched to a 0.50 ERA in 18 innings of work in the Gulf Coast League. Over those 18 innings he racked up 24 strikeouts, while only walking six batters.
Jimenez again allowed only six walks in 2014—only this time he upped his innings and strikeout numbers. In 26.2 innings for the Tigers’ short-season Single-A team, the pitcher fanned 41 batters. His ERA was 2.70.
The 2015 season was Jimenez’ best. In a career-high 43 innings for Single-A West Michigan, the 6’3” right-hander posted a sparkling 1.47 ERA and 61 strikeouts in only 43 innings pitched. He also closed 34 games, including 17 saves. He only walked 11 batters.
All told, Joe Jimenez has averaged 12.9 strikeouts per nine innings. If those numbers continue, he’ll be in the Major-League bullpen in no time. It wouldn’t be a shock to see the reliever debut at some point his season or next as a way to get his feet wet before taking over for Rodriguez.
Looking forward, fellow top prospects Paul Voelker and Montreal Robertson should serve as two of Jimenez’ setup reliever. The young trio should be joined by incumbent bullpen arms Justin Wilson, Alex Wilson and Blaine Hardy in the future bullpen for the Detroit Tigers.