By The Numbers: 3 Short-Season Arms

The Oakland A's commitment to their international free agent signing budget has increased dramatically over the past three years. Some of the returns from that investment are starting to be felt in the A's short-season pitching staffs. Nathaniel Stoltz takes a look at three young Latin American hurlers - Deyvi Jimenez, Argenis Paez and Omar Duran.

Three pitchers who have distinguished themselves in short-season ball in the Oakland A's system are right-handers Deyvi Jimenez and Argenis Paez and lefty Omar Duran.

Many short-season pitchers ultimately never figure out even the Midwest League, so it's notoriously difficult to predict how their performances will translate at higher levels, let alone the majors. But let's take a look at what Jimenez, Paez and Duran might offer.

We'll start with Jimenez, a 20-year-old righty who's spent the year in the Vancouver rotation. In 12 starts, he's walked only 13 batters, which immediately proves that he's able to get the ball over the plate even at such a young age. That's a very important skill to have.

Furthermore, he does a pretty solid job keeping the ball down. Jimenez has an above-average 46.5% groundball rate and has allowed only five homers in 61 innings. A pitcher who throws decent stuff down in the zone is going to find success, so it's no wonder that Jimenez has a well-deserved 3.54 ERA (his 3.43 FIP indicates he may even deserve to be a little better).

The tradeoff for putting the ball in the zone so often is an unexceptional strikeout total (48, for about seven strikeouts per nine). It will certainly be a learning process for Jimenez as he moves up the ladder when he should or shouldn't put the ball over the plate, but for now, his approach works just fine, and if he improves at a good rate, he's a guy to watch as a back-of-the-rotation or relief arm in the majors.

Omar Duran has been extremely good in the AZL as a swingman, as his 1.69 ERA is backed by a 2.05 FIP. When you don't allow a homer all year and strike out 12.78 batters per nine innings, these are the sort of numbers that follow.

That said, there are some issues with Duran. He's 20 years old in the AZL, so he's not exactly that young for the level. He also has shaky control, walking over four batters per nine after walking 6.6 last year. Guys who are all over the place like that can often rack up strikeouts against low-level hitters who will chase just about anything offspeed, before running into series problems when they get to the full-season levels.

That's not to shut down Duran's prospects, mind you, especially since he gets grounders over half the time and is a lefty with good velocity on the mound. I'd be somewhat skeptical until he passes the Kane County test, but if he's still putting up PlayStation numbers there, then Duran has to be considered a good prospect, especially if he can stay a starter (he's been on very strict pitch limits this year).

As for Paez, he's the most intriguing of the three, in my opinion, mainly because he's impossible to lift, generating grounders about 60% of the time with his deadly low-90's sinker and good curveball. He also throws strikes (just 2.33 BB/9) and gets a decent amount of strikeouts (7.26 K/9).

While Paez, on the surface, looks just like Jimenez, except a year younger and a level below, I find him to be the much better prospect, mainly due to the 13.3% difference in their groundball rates. Paez keeps the ball down so much, he could be a front- or middle-of the rotation starter even if he doesn't get big strikeout totals, whereas Jimenez, while he gets his share of grounders, doesn't really excel in that area like Paez does. It's a bit early to be tossing around the "potential #2 starter" tag, but if these numbers keep up in Kane County, Paez could be a real impact pitcher in the majors someday, in the Justin Masterson mold, or Chien-Ming Wang, perhaps.

To read more from Nathaniel, visit his blog at The Bleacher Report and chickenfriars.com.


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