Luis Jimenez has been a minor league soldier. 10 years of minor league service time, and 962 games (including an unsuccessful stint in Japan) in affiliated ball later (not to mention countless games in his home country of Venezuela), the Mariners gave Jimenez a chance. He had been one of the better hitters in the PCL this season, and with Tacoma’s season over, the Mariners brought him up. Not only have they brought him up, they have let him play, even more than Carlos Triunfel, who is at least more a prospect than Jimenez is.
So how has Jimenez responded to this chance? He has gotten 10 plate appearances, and I have seen them all and written a little bit about each here:
His 1st career at-bat was versus Andrew Bailey of the Red Sox. Jimenez got 2 hard fastballs (the two averaging 95.9 MPH) low in the zone and he sprayed the ball the other way to left field, but it was caught for an out.
His 2nd at-bat, his first against A.J. Griffin, is almost impossible to evaluate since he didn’t really get anything close to the zone. I guess an impatient hitter would have swung anyway, so perhaps Jimenez should get some points.
In the 3rd at-bat, he was blown away by a high 90 MPH moving fastball from A.J. Griffin. Later, he fouled back a similar one. The A’s announcing crew remarked that he had a “long flight path to the ball”. This is the concern with Jimenez and the big motivation for this post. Does he have the bat speed to excel in the Majors? Griffin tried to throw the exact same pitch later in the at-bat, and Jimenez didn’t make good contact on it, hitting a soft grounder, but it found it’s way up the middle for his first career hit. He laid off a couple pitches out of the zone in the at-bat. It seems that the best way to attack is just try to get the fastball by him. It doesn’t look like he will chase the breaking pitches unless he is way down in the count. You have to throw strikes. This is the opposite of most players making their MLB debuts, but Jimenez is a veteran who has relied on the three “true outcomes” his entire career.
Against Jerry Blevins, Jimenez took a couple of pitches in the zone (to make it 1-2). Blevins then threw a great curveball that was a strike anyway at 72 MPH. Jimenez looked bad on the swing and struck out. Blevins is a tough lefty, and Jimenez is probably going to struggle against lefties anyway.
Against Sean Doolittle, another lefty, Jimenez got a 93 MPH fastball and immediately hit a grounder to for an out. Hit a lot of grounders in Tacoma, which is not really conducive to power. Liddi and Triunfel struck out against Doolittle despite them having the platoon advantage, so one shouldn’t be too hard on the at-bat, as Doolittle is a good pitcher.
Against Grant Balfour, Jimenez took a low fastball that looked like a strike but was called a ball. He then took a fastball that caught the outside corner for a strike, and he started to swing but didn’t. He then swung through a 95 MPH fastball that caught a lot of the plate, took an outside fastball for ball two, then sprayed another one on a line to left field for an out. Balfour throws a lot of fastballs anyway, but he certainly wasn’t going to throw a breaking ball to Jimenez. He was pitched away, which has been a relatively common theme.
Against Henderson Alvarez I expected Jimenez to struggle since Alvarez has plus velocity and wasn’t throwing breaking balls at all. Sure enough, Alvarez kept the ball low and the 2nd pitch was a sinker that Jimenez hit about 15 feet.
His next at-bat versus Alvarez lasted 3 pitches but ended when he chopped at a 96 MPH sinking fastball at the bottom of the zone and grounded it back to the pitcher. It was another downward ground-ball swing that isn’t going to produce power (and not get him hits because he isn’t fast).
The 3rd time around, Alvarez threw a moving fastball down and in and Jimenez chased and whiffed. On a 95 MPH fastball outside-middle (something it seems he has been getting a lot of), Jimenez fouled it off. He took one just off the plate followed by one in the dirt, but when he got a low 95 MPH fastball, he pounded it into the dirt for a weak ground-out to 1st.
Against lefty Aaron Loup Jimenez struggled with the arm angle and chased a breaking ball way out of the zone. The next pitch Loup threw a low fastball and Jimenez weakly grounded out again.
Against right-hander Koji Uehara, Wedge let Jimenez pinch hit. He got an inside fastball (at just 87 MPH but Koji provides a lot of deception, and that is how he is so good despite such a bad fastball on the radar gun) and fouled it off. Koji then threw a splitter and made Jimenez chase and foul it off. Uehara came back with a 89 MPH fastball up and blew it right by Jimenez. These were the at-bats that we feared when we learned he would come up and these are the at-bats scouts expected and the reason Jimenez had not made it to the big leagues before age 30.
Again, it is a great story, but Luis Jimenez is not a big league player. As much as I would like to see him succeed, the tools just aren’t really there. It would have been awesome if he came up and removed all doubts by popping a few homers and making the lazy David Ortiz comps by announcers look intelligent. There is no real reason to think that these things will come true and from hearing the interviews he has given, that is okay with him. He will go to Venezuela this winter and feast on prospects/veteran pitchers mistakes. The home crowd will cheer because they love him there, and they should. Most likely, another organization will offer Jimenez a contract and stick him in AAA where he will take some walks and hit some homers. I’m just glad he got his chance.