As someone who reads Sox Prospects (I partially modeled this site after theirs), I was familiar with Stolmy Pimentel before he was acquired by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Joel Hanrahan trade last off-season. He was on the prospect radar early, and was one of the top pitching prospects in the Red Sox system for a few years. Then he struggled during the 2012 season, which helped to make him available for the Pirates to acquire last year.
I didn’t get a chance to see Pimentel until about a year ago, early in Spring Training. I saw him throw in the Black and Gold game that kicked off the Spring Training schedule, and was very impressed. His fastball had a lot of velocity, his slider looked sharp, and he basically looked like the top prospect he once was, and not a guy whose stock had fallen. I wasn’t the only one who was surprised.
“I was [surprised], because I hadn’t seen him throw before that,” Pirates’ pitching coach Ray Searage said about seeing Pimentel for the first time. “And when he did come out and pitch for us a couple times, I thought ‘good gosh man, we got something here’.”
As I saw Pimentel more and more in minor league camp, I grew more impressed by him. By the end of camp, I was predicting success during the 2013 season, based on the stuff I saw. Pimentel did have success, combining for a 3.35 ERA in 169.1 innings between Altoona and Indianapolis, and having success in a short appearance in the majors at the end of the year.
“When we gave him the ball last year, he competed,” Searage said. “He was able to throw his pitches for strikes. He’s got an exceptional fastball. What we want to try to do is make sure he keeps his leverage and the angle to his fastball, because sometimes he’ll have the tendency to collapse a little bit.”
Pimentel has dealt with some control problems in the past. That was a big issue in his time with Boston. He had a 4.1 BB/9 ratio in his jump to Double-A. He maintained that same ratio in Altoona at the start of the season. But Pimentel’s control problems subsided in Triple-A (2.1 BB/9 in 92 innings) and weren’t around in his brief time in the majors.
“The player development guys did a tremendous work on slowing him down, whereas before he was going 100 miles per hour standing still,” Searage said of the difference. “But now his delivery is more under control, and then letting his fastball and his arm speed take care of the rest. And the way he competed last year was very promising, and hopefully good things will happen for him.”
“I feel better about the fastball control,” Pimentel said. “It’s something you’ve got to be working on everyday. On the flat ground. In the bullpen. You have to keep working and keep working, get better and get better. When you can have the velocity and you can have the command, everything comes easy. The hitter will be thinking a lot.”
The addition of control is a huge weapon for Pimentel. Last year he was sitting mid-90s with his fastball. His fastball averaged 95.4 MPH, which was fourth best on the team behind Duke Welker, Gerrit Cole, and Vic Black. He was topping out at 98 MPH throughout the year, and hitting that more often in relief. He also was working on a slider in his final year in the Boston system, and saw the pitch turn into a plus offering with the Pirates.
“It’s feeling pretty good. I feel a lot of confidence with the slider,” Pimentel said of the pitch, noting that he’s comfortable using it in all counts.
Pimentel also throws a changeup, which he’s getting more comfortable with, and a two-seam fastball, which is a pitch the Pirates love. He didn’t get a lot of ground balls in the majors, but had a 47.67% ratio in the minor leagues last year.
He’s got a four pitch mix, highlighted by a mid-90s fastball and a plus slider that is an out pitch. He generates ground balls, and has seen improved control. Pimentel has everything you’d want to give him a shot at being a starter.
“We have a handful of guys that we’re definitely going to work to that three innings, 50 pitch mark, and then see how camp develops for them and for others,” Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle said. “And then maybe adjust accordingly. We do, in the big picture, still envision him as a starter. A guy that can go to the bullpen as need be. He’s out of options. So we know what’s at stake there. And we did like what we were able to get from him last year. He got to pitch in some competitive games. He got that experience that really can help a young player coming into his next season.”
The problem with Pimentel being a starter is that the Pirates’ rotation looks crowded. Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, and Charlie Morton all have guaranteed spots. Edinson Volquez wasn’t given $5 M to be a reliever, and as long as Wandy Rodriguez is healthy, he will be in the rotation. That means that Pimentel will likely start in the bullpen. This is assuming he makes the Opening Day roster and doesn’t get exposed to waivers, although I don’t see that happening, since everyone I’ve spoken with has been excited about what Pimentel brings to the team.
If he doesn’t make the rotation, Pimentel could be this year’s version of Jeanmar Gomez, who Ray Searage called last year’s “unsung hero”. Gomez pitched in many roles, including several starts and several appearances in long relief. He also pitched a few times in short relief, doing well in each role. Pimentel could play the same part, only with much better stuff than Gomez. That could mean that he will start off in the bullpen, with a good chance to crack the rotation early in the season if there is an injury or someone struggles early.
Looking beyond the 2014 season, Pimentel might have a better chance of cracking the rotation, especially if he puts up a strong season this year. But he needs to make the major league team first. That’s not exactly a guarantee, since there are eight relievers for seven spots right now. Of the four relievers who are out of options, I think he has an inside track, and a strong chance to make the majors.
“He’s a very exciting young man to watch, and obviously we like the makeup, we like the skills, and he’s going to have every opportunity to have the camp that he wants to have and to break with the club,” Hurdle said.
“You have to be ready. You just have to do your job,” Pimentel said about his chances of making the team. “As soon as they see you can do your job, they have to make a decision. I can’t control that. I’m just going to keep working on what I can control. I hope to make it. I’ve been working hard for that, so I just need to come ready and show what I’ve got.”