2015 Spring Notes: Kubitza, Jimenez, Thompson

Wrapping up the back field coverage from spring training, we examine some notable performances from the mound, including 2013 third round pick Jeff Thompson, TigsTown Top 30 members Joe Jimenez and Austin Kubitza, as well as a couple of younger arms like Johan Belisario and Carlos Lara.

Jeff Thompson: Starting with Thompson, who was the starting pitcher in one of the A-ball games, it’s still a work in progress. As you probably remember, Thompson missed most of the 2014 season with arm trouble, rumored but not confirmed to be pain in his shoulder. Thompson didn’t undergo surgery, and instead tried the rest approach, but it’s hard to say how much that helped. Thompson was known for having a great low-90’s two seam fastball, and a slider with very good potential. In his spring start, he was sitting mostly 87, topping out at 88, and the impressive sink wasn’t noticeable. In addition, the slider was more slurvy than tight. The Tigers have been tight lipped about Thompson’s recovery, so the fact that he’s on the mound facing live hitters is encouraging, but a fastball that is ~5 MPH slower than where he was coming out of college is not.

Johan Belisario: When you’re walking around Tigers camp, seemingly every pitcher that you run into has a few common traits – most notable without knowing names or having a radar gun is that they’re all big – most guys stand 6’ 2” or taller, with sizable frames that appear ready to grow. Belisario is the exception to that rule. He checks in at 5’ 11”, and even that might be generous, as he is not a big guy, and looks rather small on the mound. He also doesn’t have a big power fastball – in his outing on the back fields, he routinely sat at 90-91 MPH, while finding effectiveness by being able to throw both his curveball and fastball for strikes. Because he doesn’t have the projected desired size, he doesn’t make his way onto top prospect lists, but he remains an intriguing arm to watch, if he continues to find success.

Joe Jimenez: One of the more anticipated appearances on the mound was that of Jimenez, who came on in relief for the Class-A West Michigan club on the back fields. Jimenez showed both his potential, and his room for growth in his inning of work. His fastball wasn’t quite as heavy as it has been reported to be, sitting at 91-92 MPH, topping out at 94. That velocity was still enough to get hitters out in many cases, but his stuff isn’t good enough that he can overcome poor pitching, just yet. Jimenez got a couple of easy outs, but in one at-bat, used his slider a few times, never coming close to throwing it for a strike. In a hitter’s count, he needed a pitch over the plate and the hitter jumped on a 92 MPH fastball without much movement and drove it over the wall for a home run. A good reminder of how the stuff is only one component of a successful pitcher, and while it’s usually the most important because it’s near impossible to be good without it, the other learned aspects are important as well.

Austin Kubitza: When talking about Gregory Soto in a previous spring notebook, I mentioned the flocking of scouts. When Kubitza took the mound, there was no “flocking” that happened – the scouts were already there. In this case, it was the other players that weren’t in action that gathered behind home plate, ready to get a look. Kubitza was working as a starter for the Double-A club, and was very effective, working quickly and efficiently to mow through innings. Kubitza paired his 91-92 MPH fastball with his devastating slider. You’ve probably heard about how impressive the slider is by now, and it’s something players wanted to watch. More notable is that while his fastball was at 91-92, his slider was just a few MPH slower, coming in at 87-88 MPH, with good deception. The pitch is impressive no matter what, but when you combine the fact that it comes in almost as fast as the fastball, it becomes even more difficult for hitters to track it. I mentioned it at the time, but if the Tigers bullpen struggles again this year, and the Tigers need to start reaching further down in the system for reinforcements, you better believe that Kubitza will get a look with that FB/SL combo.

Carlos Lara: The Tigers have two C. Lara’s in the organization, making things confusing for observers, and both are right-handers that stand a lanky 6’ 2”, making it even more difficult to differentiate between them, but on one day on the far back field, it was Carlos Lara on the mound. Lara delivered low-90’s fastballs that he was able to control, and backed it up with a changeup that had good movement on it that was leaving rookie-level hitters confused and flailing. Notably in that is that his changeup was considered his pitch that needed the most work when he landed at #46 in the TigsTown Top 50, an encouraging development for the 21-year old.

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