Will Ubaldo Haunt the Rockies?

Last August's controversial trade between the Colorado Rockies and Cleveland Indians saw both clubs out of contention at the end of the season. The Rockies acquired three young pitchers, two have been arrested, one is projected to make the big league rotation, and one has already been sent to minor league camp. But, what's the news from the Cleveland side?

According to Shledon Ocker in the Beacon Journal, former Rockies starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez didn't impress in his second Spring Training start against the Reds last Saturday. 

From the report

“His fastball was 89-91 [mph],” the scout said. “He might have touched 92 once or twice, but his slider was flat. He also looked like his mind was somewhere else. I haven’t seen him like that in two years.”

This is obviously not a good sign for Cleveland, a team that is hoping to contend with the Detroit Tigers for the division crown in the AL Central this year. Manager Manny Acta has already named RHP Justin Masterson as the Opening Day starter, so Jimenez won't have the pressure of being the number one starter to deal with. However, he is going to the American League where he'll face the designated hitter for the first time. 

Jimenez had an off year in 2011 with an ERA of 4.68, but he actually pitched much better than that which was evidenced by a 3.67 FIP and 3.71 xFIP. His peripheral numbers were fine: 8.6 K/9 (8.2 career) 3. 73 BB/9 (3.91 career) 0.81 HR/9 (0.60 career). His undoing was of course his .314 BABIP (.285 career), 65% LOB (71% career), 9.3 HR/FB (7.7 career). Getting away from Coors Field and in front of a good Indians infield defense should help Jimenez, who induced ground balls 47.2% of the time (50.3% career).

But, all of that is meaningless if Jimenez is throwing in the low-90's with a flat slider. No matter how good of a candidate for a bounce back season he is (and he is a good one), he's not going to have any kind of sustained success with the stuff he's currently showing. As Yogi Berra once said, "It gets late here early." Nobody should hold the results of Jimenez' second Spring Training start against him, but that doesn't make them any prettier (3.2 IP 5 HA 6 R 6 ER 4 BB 4 K 1 HR). 

He routinely sat in the low-90's with his fastball last year and if his velocity does return in the next few weeks this will be more than just something to watch. The Indians acquired Jimenez not only because of his affordable contract but with the hopes that he would return to his pre-2011 status and reestablish himself as a front of the rotation starter. After all, they paid the Rockies handsomely for him with two former first round picks in LHP Drew Pomeranz and RHP Alex White, though White has seriously struggled on and off the field (Pomeranz just with a minor arrest off the field). Neither will likely make anyone in Colorado forget about Ubaldo's 2010 campaign anytime soon, but Pomeranz still carries a ceiling projection of a number two starter and for the Rockies that was enough to let someone else worry about Jimenez. 

ZiPS currently projects Jimenez for a 3.52 ERA in 196 innings with 188 Strikeouts and 80 walks. A rebound season for Jimenez is in reach and if he can regain his velocity and once again reach his potential the Indians could find themselves in the heat of the pennant race before the Rockies do again. 

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