The Oakland A’s made two picks in the 2020 Rule 5 draft, adding two new prospects to their depth chart. Each of them will have to remain in the majors all season in order to stay in the A’s organization, but both have clear paths to the bigs if they can make good on their potential.
In this post we’ll take a closer look at Dany Jimenez, a relief pitcher drafted away from the Toronto Blue Jays.
Dany Jimenez | RHP, relief
- Age: Turns 27 in a couple weeks
- Throws: Right
- H/W: 6’1, 182 pounds
- Amateur: Signed as int’l free agent out of Dominican Republic in 2015 (by Blue Jays)
We’ll begin with a purely objective look at Jimenez’s numbers, before a deeper dive outside the box scores. We’ll start in 2018, when he reached full-season Single-A ball at age 24.
- Jimenez, 2018 A: 3.84 ERA, 63⅓ ip, 80 Ks, 24 BB, 10 HR, 4.19 FIP*
- Jimenez, 2019 A+: 3.55 ERA, 25⅓ ip, 47 Ks, 9 BB, 2 HR, 1.69 FIP
- Jimenez, 2019 AA: 1.87 ERA, 33⅔ ip, 46 Ks, 12 BB, 4 HR, 3.14 FIP
* Note: Remove his first two disastrous games of the 2018 season, featuring nine earned runs in less than three innings, and his numbers improve to 2.67 ERA and 3.76 FIP
That’s a lotta strikeouts. In total he fanned over one-third of the batters he faced (33.6%), and nearly 13 per nine innings, and in 2019 he got swinging strikes on more than 20% of the pitches he threw. Those are monster numbers at any level of pro ball. What’s more, his walk rate remained steady at each step up the ladder, never notably rising against each tier of tougher competition.
What contact he did allow was kept within reason. There were some dingers in 2018, but the ball stayed in the park in 2019, and his hit rates are consistently low — that’s easier to maintain when so few balls are put into play.
All of that earned Jimenez an MLB chance in 2020, but not in the Toronto organization where he’d spent his entire pro career. Instead, he was a Rule 5 selection by the Giants. He made it into two games for San Francisco, with mixed results.
In the first outing, on Opening Day against the Dodgers, he entered with a runner on second and two out. A pair of walks (Pederson and Pollock) loaded the bases, and then he induced a soft grounder from Austin Barnes that should have ended the inning. However, the ball dribbled to nobody for a lucky infield single, scoring a run. Another walk (Muncy) pushed home another. Then he struck out Mookie Betts, fooling him on a 1-2 curveball.
The box score says it was a bad outing, but he’s never had walk issues before so the free passes can be chalked up to MLB debut jitters plus Opening Day plus playing against the eventual champions. Other than that, it was a grounder that should have been an out, and a strikeout of the second-best player in the sport.
His next time out, five days later, he pitched the 9th inning of a 5-3 loss to the Padres. He got a routine flyout from Jurickson Profar, then a hard but routine groundout from Wil Myers, and a warning track flyout from Austin Hedges. They were all hit reasonably well, but none were especially close to becoming hits. Badda bing, badda boom, 12 pitches, 1-2-3 inning. And no walks, nor even any three-ball counts.
But that wasn’t enough for the Giants, who returned him to Toronto five days later. Now the A’s are giving him the same chance the Giants did, as a Rule 5 pick for the second straight year. But when has a Giants cast-off ever made good with the A’s, other than Rajai Davis, and Travis Blackley, and Dan Otero, and Burch Smith, and ... OK maybe it happens a lot.
We know Jimenez has promising numbers in the minors and that he misses bats, and we know his MLB debut was mostly encouraging. What’s under the hood? J.J. Cooper of Baseball America said this last winter:
“Jimenez has a high-90s fastball with arm-side run, a plus slider and a low-80s changeup that shows promise. Most power arms with his kind of stuff who are available in the Rule 5 draft either have zero upper level minor league experience or well-below-average control. Jimenez spent half of the year in Double-A and has average control (3.2 BB/9). He is one of the more well-rounded prospects available with fewer drawbacks than most available arms.”
(Note that the “slider” is called a curveball by Statcast.)
“A’s like Dany Jimenez’s 98 mph fastball and good slider. Feinstein says they’ve identified things they can tweak with his mechanics that could help him really take advantage of his stuff. Will be competing for a bullpen spot this Spring.”
We’ll see about that 98, as in his brief audition last year Statcast clocked his fastball at an average of 93 and a high of 94.9 mph. But that was the start of the season, after an abbreviated preseason, so it’s not unusual to expect another tick or two on his heater after a proper spring training and with time to stretch his arm out.
Indeed, there is precedent for mid/upper-90s heat. Jimenez’s 2018 season came with the Lansing Lugnuts, now an A’s affiliate, and Lugnuts broadcaster Jesse Goldberg-Strassler gave me the following scouting report:
“He was the worst player on the team to start the year [in April 2018] ... and then almost out of nowhere straightened out his mechanics, gave himself a consistent release point and was outright dominant to end the year, with a fastball up to 96 and an unhittable out pitch in his hammer curve.”
Goldberg-Strassler referred to Jimenez’s stuff as “ridiculous,” while stressing that he’ll require patience due to his limited experience at higher levels — not even three dozen innings at Double-A and above.
“He’s just figuring out how good he can be. I still think patience will be required early, perhaps because we needed to be patient with him early in Lansing, but a great ceiling.”
As a final point of emphasis, Goldberg-Strassler made particular note of how Jimenez was able to strike out the superstar Betts even “without his command.”
Put it all together, and what do we have? A two-pitch reliever, but they both could be plus offerings, an upper-90s heater and an effective 80 mph curve — and Cooper mentioned a developing changeup too. He has the proven ability to miss bats, up to and including literally Mookie Betts, and he doesn’t have a particular problem with walks outside of one game in his MLB debut. He’s as strong of an under-the-radar reliever lotto ticket as you could ask for.
The Giants had enough bullpen arms last year so I can understand why they returned Jimenez, but their impatience could turn out to be Oakland’s gain if he pans out.
The A’s bullpen is wide open for 2021. We know that Jake Diekman will be there, as will J.B. Wendelken. We can probably assume Lou Trivino is a lock, even though he has options remaining. It also sounds like they want to sign one more reliable veteran, which makes sense as long as they don’t spend more than a few million. That’s four spots, which leaves four spots remaining.
There’s no shortage of candidates, as the 40-man roster includes Burch Smith and Jordan Weems, who both looked good in the majors this summer, as well as prospects Miguel Romero and Wandisson Charles (themselves added to the roster this winter to protect them from this very Rule 5 draft). On top of that, there are several minor league free agent sleepers who will be competing in spring training as non-roster invites, and some surplus starter prospects who might move to bullpen roles, and that’s all before considering if the A’s might try adding any of the interesting names on the open market scrap-heap.
There could easily be 10 or more arms battling for these four bullpen spots, and you could make compelling cases for any combination of them based on their stuff and individual merits. But the one thing that sets Jimenez apart from the rest is that he can’t be sent down to the minors. Everyone else can be stashed in Triple-A after spring training, but Jimenez would need to be offered back to Toronto if he doesn’t make the team.
Is anyone else on that list, from Weems to Romero to James Kaprielian to Montana DuRupau, a better bet to such an obviously enormous extent that you’d simply dump Jimenez to get them on the roster immediately? If the swap waits even two weeks then the difference might cost the A’s a playoff berth? Would any level of good or bad Cactus League stats change your mind? (That last one is a trick question — the answer is always no.)
We’ll see what Jimenez’s future holds, but as things stand now, I can’t imagine a reason why you wouldn’t toss him into the bullpen on Opening Day and see how he does for at least a few weeks. The relief corps is going to have to be an open audition this year, since there isn’t enough money to stack it with established free agents, and frankly the A’s are really good at pulling quality relievers out of nowhere on the fly. He’s as talented and promising as anyone else in the group.
The downside is that you cut Jimenez after a handful of bad outings, just like you do with several relievers every year. It cost you nothing to acquire him, and there are eleventy backups eagerly waiting behind him. The completely realistic upside is you found a new high-octane setup man for free, on the minimum salary with long-term team control. That’s a coin worth flipping as many times as you can.