Young Jimenez brings buzz to Tigers' camp

Club getting first look at possible future closer, who dominated in Class A

Young Jimenez brings buzz to Tigers' camp

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Joe Jimenez arrived at Tigers camp with the billing as potential closer of the future. He's more focused on being a Spring Training reliever of the present.

"I'm just here to learn," the 21-year-old fastballer said Monday. "I'm just going to keep doing the same thing that I was doing last year."

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What Jimenez did last year was impressive. Besides 17 saves at Class A West Michigan, the San Juan, Puerto Rico, native held opponents to 23 hits over 43 innings with 11 walks and 61 strikeouts, overpowering hitters with an upper-90s fastball. He made the World roster for the All-Star Futures Game in Cincinnati last July.

For a youngster who began his pro career as a long reliever in Rookie ball, then a part-time closer in Short-Season, it was a statement year.

"Being the closer is something I like to do," he said. "I like it in the eighth when the other team looks to the bullpen and sees, 'Oh, this guy is coming in the ninth.' I like it. It means a lot to me."

The Tigers took notice. Rarely do players get a Spring Training invite out of the Midwest League, though outfielder Wynton Bernard had one last year after Detroit put him on the 40-man roster.

"I wasn't expecting to be here," Jimenez admits.

The invite gives Tigers officials a chance to see him against a higher level of competition. For manager Brad Ausmus, it's a first look.

"I guess anyone down in the Minor Leagues is a potential closer candidate," Ausmus said. "People talk about that, I think, because of his velocity. It doesn't hurt to have a little velocity. You still need a swing-and-miss pitch, and fastballs aren't generally swing-and-miss pitches. Very rarely do you see a fastball as a swing-and-miss pitch. You need that slider or that curve or split, something that can get you that extra out with a runner on third and one out."

That's where Jimenez's power slider comes into play.

"Kind of a big, but hard, slider," Ausmus said. "Able to throw strikes. The Minor League development people really like him."

Jimenez currently ranks 11th on MLB.com's Tigers prospect rankings and has a good chance of rising with the next update. Considering general manager Al Avila's preference to develop more relievers within the farm system, Jimenez could climb the developmental ladder quickly as well.

"I'm going to pitch wherever they put me," Jimenez said. "I don't [have] to be a closer. [If] they put me in the seventh, the eighth, I'm going to be proud to wear a uniform."

Quick hits

• All Tigers players have reported to camp except for closer Francisco Rodriguez and second baseman Ian Kinsler. Rodriguez remains in Venezuela while he works on finalizing his work visa. Kinsler is expected when full-squad workouts begin Tuesday.

• Also among the camp arrivals Monday was Kirk Gibson, who will be a guest instructor this spring to work on baserunning. Gibson is also part of the broadcast team for Tigers games on FOX Sports Detroit.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.