Prospect Profile: Joel Zumaya

With a blazing fastball, and lots of hard work, Zumaya has forged himself into an elite pitching prospect. The Tigers insist that he will remain in the rotation, but it's tough to deny that his future may be as a dominating reliever. Check inside to see what Zumaya must do to become a mainstay on the Tigers roster as soon as this season.

Joel Zumaya
Position: Right-Handed Pitcher Height: 6-3 Weight: 210
Born: 11/9/1984Bats: Right Throws: Right

Background
Zumaya was an 11th round high school draft choice by the Tigers in 2002, mostly on the basis of his exceptional curveball, with the hope that he would add velocity and become an above average prospect. Well, the Tigers wishes came true when Joel's velocity jumped from the high 80s to the mid 90s almost immediately. Zumaya's debut in the GCL ended with a 1.95 ERA and over 11 K/9 in his nine appearances. After his exceptional debut, the Tigers jumped him all the way to full-season West Michigan, where he again excelled beyond all expectations, posting a 2.80 ERA in 19 starts for the Whitecaps. The 2004 season saw Joel move on to the Florida State League, where he struggled mightily with his control, walking nearly 5 batters per game and posting a 4.63 ERA in 136 strikeouts. Despite these struggles, and due to several injuries at Erie, the Tigers promoted him to Erie for four starts at the end of the season. Zumaya returned to Erie in 2005, but after 18 outstanding starts, he was promoted to AAA-Toledo for the remainder of the season. Combined between the two levels, Joel logged 178 innings with a 2.82 ERA and nearly 12 K/9.

Scouting Report
As Zumaya has matured physically, his large frame has filled out, and his velocity has continued to climb. Zumaya's fastball can easily reach triple digits, but he typically works in the 94-96 range. Along with his exceptional velocity, Joel's fastball has explosive late life that makes consistent contact difficult. Previously, he had used a hard biting "slurve" as his breaking pitch, but as he has refined his mechanics, Joel was forced to develop more of a traditional 12-6 breaker to maintain his movement and deception. His curveball lacks consistency in both depth and control, but is improving and should be a plus pitch with time. Zumaya's changeup was nearly non-existent when drafted, and has only developed to a merely average pitch at this point. Not only does he lack control of the pitch, often elevating it in the zone, but he lacks significant movement and deception. His arm speed tends to slow when throwing his change, giving the pitch away and making control difficult. The organization continues to work with him on this pitch, but progress has been slow. If the change-up becomes even a slightly above-average pitch, Zumaya will almost certainly remain in the rotation. Right now, with only two top-notch pitches, Joel profiles as an absolutely dominating reliever, and could fill that role as early as this season.

Performance

Year

Team

W-L

ERA

G

GS

SV

H

BB

SO

IP

2005

Erie/Toledo

11-7

2.82

31

31

0

120

90

236

178.2


Health Record
Despite no significant injuries at this point in his career, Joel does carry many concerns with him. He has overcome back problems early in his career, but has been shut down each of the last two seasons due to shoulder stiffness late in the year. Zumaya's high effort delivery concerns most observers, and the organization will have to keep close tabs on him to ensure he remains healthy through this high risk stage of his career.

The Future
Zumaya will be in the mix for the 5th spot in the Detroit rotation, but he will have to significantly out perform fellow top prospect Justin Verlander to land the spot. With his shot at the rotation looking very slim, there has been plenty of talk speculating that Zumaya may make the Detroit roster as a member of the bullpen. Despite his willingness to move to the bullpen, don't be surprised if Zumaya starts the season off working out of the Toledo rotation. Either way, Joel is certain to make his Major League debut in 2006, and will be a fixture in Detroit starting in 2007.


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