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Sox pitching prospect Pimentel gets a taste of Futures

07.11.10 at 10:11 pm ET
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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Red Sox pitching prospect Stolmy Pimentel spent little time in the All-Star Futures Game. He entered the contest for the World team in the bottom of the fifth inning, and showed his three-pitch mix — a 92-93 mph fastball, a change that elicited a swing and miss, a work-in-progress curve — while retiring both of the batters he faced.

The first hitter, Marlins prospect Logan Morrison, drove a full-count fastball to the warning track in center field, where Pirates prospect Gorkys Hernandez made a fine grab while crashing into the wall. Pimentel then got Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa on a broken bat groundout to second on a fastball to conclude his day.

Though the experience (in a game that the U.S. team won, 9-1) was brief, its significance was not lost on Pimentel. For the second time in his career (following an appearance as the Lowell Spinners’ starter in the Futures at Fenway contest in 2008), the right-hander had enjoyed the opportunity to pitch on a big league mound. The experience was a reminder of the 20-year-old’s ambitions.

“I was excited to be here. I hope to be here again,” said Pimentel. “[Fenway Park and Angel Stadium] are big league mounds. Everything in the big leagues is good.”

The Sox are confident that Pimentel will have the opportunity to return to the big league setting in the not-too-distant future. Indeed, the team was sufficiently bullish about his future that it refused to include him in the three-way trade that brought Jason Bay to Boston and sent Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers, nearly jeopardizing the deal.

That Pimentel has achieved that status as one of the organization’s top pitching prospects is somewhat remarkable, given his obscure professional origins. The Sox were the only team that asked him to a workout in the Dominican Republic. At the time, the 16-year-old was rail thin, and his fastball was just 84-86 mph. He signed as a 16-year-old for the relatively modest bonus of $25,000. But the money was less important to Pimentel than the opportunity to pitch professionally.

“I wasn’€™t throwing hard. I was skinny, younger. I wasn’€™t thinking about the money I got to sign. I wanted to play professional baseball. As soon as I signed, I started working, working, working,” said Pimentel. “I wasn’€™t thinking about money. I wanted to play because I love to play. Making the big leagues, that was my big goal.”

That makeup was a part of what impressed the Sox about Pimentel when they signed him. Yet the team also saw a pitcher who was eminently projectable. That forecast, in turn, increasingly has come to fruition.

“Stolmy’s arm action [and] athleticism stood out,” said Sox Vice-President of International Scouting Craig Shipley. “He has grown both physically and mentally, allowing him to improve his stuff and the understanding of what it takes to become a [major league] pitcher.”

Pimentel’s physical maturation is very apparent. When he was with Lowell, he estimates, he weighed 180-185 pounds as an 18-year-old. Now, he has packed on muscle in reaching 220 pounds. That has already added some velocity and life to his fastball, and the Sox believe that there is more such growth to come.

“I think he projects to throw harder — he’€™s only 20 years old — as he continues to grow into his frame, define his physique. His arm works really well,” said Sox GM Theo Epstein. “I think he’€™s going to be a guy who has power to his game, but with a swing-and-miss changeup and the ability to command the ball to both sides, it’€™s not like he needs double-plus velocity in order to be successful. He’€™s got three pitches.”

Statistically, this season has been Pimentel’s most challenging since turning pro. He is 5-7 with a 4.61 ERA for High-A Salem. His strikeouts (55) are down, though his control (25 walks) has been very good. But the Sox believe that his progress as a professional cannot be judged by his 2010 numbers.

“I think you have to look past the numbers. He has a major league changeup right now. his breaking ball is getting better all the time. He’€™s going to be a good one. He has all the ingredients to be a major league starting pitcher if his development continues at the rate it’€™s been going the last four years,” said Epstein. “His progress in the system has been steady and methodical. For a guy who signed four years ago at 16, to move through and have success at every level like he has, it’€™s been impressive. This has been a very solid developmental year for him.”

Pimentel has had flashes of brilliance, as when he threw six perfect innings in one start and six no-hit innings in another, while he has had other outings in which he has been hit hard.

The range of performances is all typical for a young pitcher. Pimentel feels that 2010 has been a continuation of his steady progress since signing with the Sox.

“Sometimes there are bad days, but you have to be positive and keep working everyday, no matter what. Be positive and aggressive. That can make you a better player,” said Pimentel. “I’€™ve been doing a good job this year. I feel good. I just have to keep working hard and prepare myself.”

Pimentel suggests that his goals for the second half are to stay healthy and to reach Double-A, though he recognizes that the decision about a promotion is out of his control. All the same, he harbors ambitions of reaching the big leagues as soon as the 2011 season, a goal that he has held since he first turned pro.

“I’€™ve got one more year left. I think I can make it,” said Pimentel. “I feel ready. I’€™m going to be positive and aggressive no matter what. I know if I pitch like I can, I can make it to the big leagues pretty soon.”

On Sunday, pitching on a big league mound, he received a reminder of what may lie ahead.

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