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Scouting Pitchers: Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales

James Benkard

James Benkard

James Benkard writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

This week, we'll check out two young guns on the Rockies. Last July, Jimenez was struggling at Triple-A, with a 5.85 ERA through 19 starts. Called up for the stretch drive, he ended up making three playoff starts for the 2007 NL Champions. Jimenez is currently 9-11, 3.99 in 27 starts with a team-high 129 strikeouts. Morales started last year at Double-A and worked his way up to make eight regular-season and two playoff starts. Bombed back to Triple-A this April, he is now 9-4, 5.36 in 19 starts for Colorado Springs with 80 strikeouts and 76 walks in 102 innings.

I scout these pitchers personally, recording their velocity, pitch selection and motions by watching their games. I use the standard 20-80 scouting scale to rate pitchers. These velocities are suggestive and not determinant of a pitch's rating. For example, a 75 MPH curveball might rank as a 60 because of its movement and/or deception. Please feel free to post your thoughts below on the pitcher or the column.

80 Outstanding (96+ MPH fastball, 88+ MPH slider, 82 MPH curveball)
70 Well above average (94-95 FB, 86-87 MPH SL, 80-81 MPH CB)
60 Above average (92-93 MPH FB, 84-85 MPH SL, 78-79 MPH CB)
50 Average (89-91 MPH FB, 82-84 MPH SL, 75-77 MPH CB)
40 Below average (86-88 MPH FB, 79-81 MPH SL, 73-75 MPH CB)
30 Well below average (83-85 MPH FB, 76-78 MPH SL, 71-72 MPH CB)
20 Poor (80-82 MPH FB, 71-75 MPH SL, 69-70 MPH CB)

Colorado signed the right-handed Jimenez (6-4, 200, 1/22/1984) out of the Dominican Republic in 2001. He went 10-6, 3.46 in 27 starts in the South Atlantic League in 2003. He was pitching well in the California League in 2004 before the beginnings of a stress fracture in his shoulder shut him down. Jimenez finished High-A in 2005 (5-3, 3.98 ERA) in the first half and then went 2-5, 5.43 at Double-A. He returned to dominate the Texas League for the first half of 2006 (9-2, 2.45) and pitched well enough at Triple-A (5-2, 5.06) to earn a cup of coffee in Denver that September.

Jimenez's slow start at Colorado Springs last year didn't dim his star within the organization. In his defense, when called up to the majors, he had thrown over 650 innings, most of them in notorious hitters' leagues. Jimenez allowed 18 earned runs in his first five starts, before holding the opposition to 10 runs over his next six. He finished 2007 4-4, 4.28 and helped make the Rockies the best team in baseball down the stretch.

Ubaldo Jimenez: (G/F 2.10)
		Rating:  %Thrown:
Fastball	75		55
Sinker		70		15
Curveball	60		15
Slider		65		10
Changeup	60		5
Control		45
Delivery	45
Composure	50

Jimenez has great stuff, starting with a 93-99 MPH four-seam fastball that reaches 100. He throws a 90-93 MPH sinker, a 73-80 MPH curveball, an 84-88 MPH slider and an 81-84 MPH changeup. Jimenez' four-seamer has some sink at 93 MPH, and he makes right-handers uncomfortable by boring 95 MPH fastballs inside to them. Jimenez is still learning to command his breaking balls as effective strikeout pitches. He could strike out many more by locating something on the outside corner after establishing inside.

Jimenez is using his sinker more often for strikeouts now than he did earlier in the year. At the beginning of the season, he relied more on high fastballs and changeups. Thrown regularly at 90-92 MPH, Jimenez's sinker has the action of a splitter and is very hard to lay off. His curveball is effective when he locates it well. It's a little loopy, but it can freeze hitters because it's so different from his hard stuff. Jimenez' slider has just average movement, but with its excellent velocity, it can be very effective. Jimenez is fun to watch because he is unpredictable and daring with his pitch selection. He doesn't just fall back on the fastball when he's behind in the count.

Jimenez drops his arm stiffly down by his back leg, and he stops his arm by his leg before rocking forward. This gives his motion two separate parts, and creates torque for his breaking balls and gives movement to his fastball. It also means Jimenez relies too much on his arm. He stands to lose velocity down the road unless he can become smoother. I can't think of another hard-throwing starter in his 30's with a similar delivery. Colorado has worked with Jimenez to keep him from coiling his wrist at the midpoint of his delivery, but he still falls back into that habit as he tires. He needs to stay consistent in his release point and drive straight toward the plate instead of across his body.

Jimenez's 2.10 G/F ratio is sixth-best in the major leagues among pitchers with at least 100 innings. He will need to reduce his average of 16.8 pitches per inning. With his unorthodox delivery and history of long innings through his 900 professional innings, it surprises me that Jimenez is intact and has retained his velocity. He hasn't been hurt by Coors Field, with a 3.47 lifetime ERA there in 135 innings. I'll bet he has some 200-inning, 15-win years, is sidelined by injuries and then remakes himself into Ismael Valdez.

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The Rockies found the left-handed Morales (6-0, 170, 1/24/1986) in Venezuela in 2002. He was originally an outfielder but broke into the Dominican Summer League in 2003 by winning nine of his 13 starts with a 2.18 ERA. Morales logged just 161 innings in Rookie ball and Low-A in 2004 and 2005. Colorado turned him loose on the California League in 2006, where he went 10-9, 3.68 with 179 strikeouts and 89 walks in 154 innings.

Last year, Morales began his march to Coors with 17 good Texas League starts (3-4, 3.48). He won two of three games at Triple-A before helping the Rockies' rotation in September, going 3-0, 2.88. Morales laid an egg in Game 1 of the 2007 World Series as he allowed seven runs in 2/3 of an inning after he relieved Jeff Francis. Demoted to Triple-A this May, Colorado manager Clint Hurdle told MLB.com he wanted Morales to work on his command: "No. 1, it's getting him in a good place with his delivery where the ball's coming out of his glove on time and the mechanics are in line so he can revisit that velocity that we've seen in the past…We saw some glimpses of it last season, and slowly, for whatever reason, some things have been changing in the delivery, the mechanics of it."

Franklin Morales: (G/F 1.00)
		Rating:  %Thrown:
Fastball	65		50
Curveball	65		25
Slider		N/A
Changeup	55		25
Control		45
Delivery	45
Composure	50

When he's in sync, Morales' fastball runs from 90-95 MPH, and he has been clocked at 96-97. Early this year, his velocity varied from 87-93 MPH. He is currently throwing 93-94 at Colorado Springs. His fastball has good late life, especially high in the strike zone, and he can be overpowering. Morales' out pitch is a big-breaking 70-76 MPH curveball. He also has a 78-80 MPH curveball that breaks less, with the action of a slider. As hitters prefer to lay off it, he needs to throw it for strikes consistently.

Morales' 76-83 MPH changeup doesn't move much, but it is a crucial pitch for him. When he throws it over the plate, it keeps hitters from sitting on his fastball and generates some quick outs. Morales does tip his change by slowing his arm speed, and does so to a lesser degree with his curve.

Morales works right-handers inside even more than Jimenez, but is at more of a disadvantage because he doesn't have as much movement on his fastball. When Morales does cut the ball inside, he tends to run it in too far and nearly hit batters. To his credit, he keeps coming in there, and this gutsiness will pay off down the road. Morales needs good defense behind him to be successful, as he gives up his share of hard-hit balls. He works quickly but goes through stretches where he can't throw strikes. If the infielders aren't on their toes, they can be caught off guard when he suddenly finds the plate. Morales has an excellent pickoff move and is a good, if nonchalant, fielder.

Morales' crossfire delivery resembles that of Francisco Liriano, another left-handed former outfielder. Morales is more upright than Liriano, who drops and drives. Morales twists his arm and keeps it straight as he brings it back instead of circling it loosely. The result is a coiled motion in which he comes across is body and often struggles with a consistent release point. Morales' command hasn't improved much at Triple-A over the course of the summer, as he has walked at least 17 batters in each of the last four months. His G/F ratio is historically about 1.00, so his double play support isn't as high as Jimenez's.

If you dropped Morales into the Yankee bullpen next week, I think he'd be a very good setup man. As he bounces back and forth between the unforgiving environments of the PCL and Coors Field, Morales will take some more lumps before finding consistency. The Rockies may not want to break him in as a reliever, but that's the role that's best suited for him now.

Radar Love will return next week, along with the AL East: Matt Garza

 

Article first appeared 8/24/08