Rockies' Jimenez among many farm gems

From Jeff Passan's take on the no-hitter:

    Jimenez loves his fastball, as he ought. For two years running, it’s been the hardest pitch in baseball, and this year is no different: Over three starts, he is sitting at 96.5 mph, harder than he’s ever thrown. And it’s not a typical 100-mph flirter, either. Fastballs that hard generally straighten out. Jimenez’s dips, dives, dodges, dances and sometimes destroys his catcher, Miguel Olivo(notes).

    “It comes fast,” Olivo said. “You can feel it, too. Your hand, the rest of your body, the way you need to catch the ball. You need to get ready earlier.”

    Jimenez likes to establish the fastball early in games. He started the Braves with eight among his first nine pitches. He never found his command out of the windup, throwing only 21 of 46 pitches for strikes through the fifth inning. Once Jimenez went to the stretch, 19 of his 25 fastballs went for strikes, and as he was hitting 98 mph in the ninth inning, the Braves were only wishing ...

I'm sure it's not the first time, but it's the first time I've been aware that a starting pitcher shifted from the windup to the stretch when he didn't have to (and more details on that switch are here). Makes you wonder, doesn't it? It's often said that the stretch costs a pitcher 2-3 miles an hour off his fastball, and (considering how easy that is to check) I'll assume that's roughly accurate. But then you see something like this, and you wonder how many control-challenged power pitchers should maybe take things down a notch.

Jimenez's no-hitter got me to wondering what people were saying about him before he made his bones in the majors, and that led me to Baseball America's 2007 Prospect Handbook. Here are the Rockies' top eight prospects three years ago, with key performers since 2007 bolded:

1. Troy Tulowitzki

2. Franklin Morales

3. Jason Hirsh

4. Dexter Fowler

5. Ian Stewart

6. Ubaldo Jimenez

7. Greg Reynolds

8. Chris Iannetta

That's impressive. And Seth Smith was ranked 16th that year. I don't get the impression that the Rockies get a great deal of credit for their player development, but has any club graduated more good players to the majors in the last three or four years?

Anyway, here's what BA said three years ago: "Jimenez figures to return to Triple-A in 2007, and he could move into the big league rotation as soon as midseason. His profile also would fit in the closer's role, which could save some wear and tear on his arm."

Nailed it.

Well, the first part. Jimenez did open 2007 in Triple-A, then -- despite a bloated ERA and far too many walks -- did join the big league rotation shortly after the All-Star break.

Here's what John Sickels wrote, three years ago:

    When guys like this develop well, they turn into Freddy Garcia. When they have problems, they turn out like Daniel Cabrera. And they fall apart completely, they end up like Denny Bautista. Jimenez could end up anywhere along that continuum. I really like his upside, but I will give him the same Grade B I have him last year, pending better control.

In that last Triple-A stint, Jimenez walked 5.4 per nine innings, more than he'd ever walked before. He seemed to be headed straight for Daniel Cabreraville. But the Rockies presumably saw something the rest of us didn't, or couldn't. They called him up anyway, and since then he's improved his ERA in each season and thrown a no-hitter. Somewhere in Coors Field right now, somebody's smiling.