|Staging Stolmy: Right-hander gets ready for unveiling||02.26.11 at 11:15 am ET|
He’s not Casey Kelly. But as these things go, he’s not a bad alternative.
This year, with Stolmy Pimentel getting the ball to open the Red Sox’ spring training calendar against Boston College, the fanfare is decidedly more muted than it was a year ago, when Casey Kelly took the mound against Northeastern. Kelly’s outing was greeted with breathless anticipation; the hype about the much-ballyhooed 20-year-old was far-reaching. He only threw one perfect inning that day, but each of his 10 pitches was, in its own way, worthy of intense scrutiny. (Guilty as charged.)
But while Pimentel’s reputation as a prospect does not carry the same weight as did Kelly’s a year ago, among Sox coaches and team officials, he has been turning heads this spring. When the Sox signed Pimentel out of the Dominican as an overlooked 16-year-old with a mid-80s fastball and what the team thought/hoped was a projectable body, he was a tall (6-foot-2), lanky kid who looked like he could get blown over by a stiff breeze. While Pimentel guessed that he weighed about 170 pounds when he signed for $25,000 in 2006, team officials believe that he was closer to 150 or so.
Now? Physically, he appears as robust as did Kelly a year ago. He has put in the hard work in the offseason to bulk up to 225 pounds, and he has also added a couple of inches to check in at 6-foot-4. When he has been on the mound for bullpen or live batting practice sessions, he has commanded the attention of members of the Red Sox.
“I don’t think any of us dreamed that he was going to grow and fill in and have quite that big a stature. He’s quite a figure in a uniform. There’s a presence about him because of his size,” said Goose Gregson, the Sox’ Latin American pitching coordinator. “He’s got something you can’t teach: he’s got a presence about him, a game awareness and savvy when he crosses that white line that you can’t teach.”
The Sox have long viewed Pimentel as a starter with enough talent that a future in the Red Sox rotation is a legitimate possibility. He shows good command of a low-90s fastball that touched 94-95 mph last year, an offering that Pimentel hopes will continue to play up as he adds more size and strength.
“When you can feel stronger and bigger, you have more power. You can throw harder,” said Pimentel. “Last year was my first time that I hit 95. This year, I feel stronger. I feel like I can throw harder than that. I was working really hard in the offseason to come in shape, come in ready for spring training.”
He has a swing-and-miss changeup that has long been his out pitch, dating to the days when, as a young boy watching his idol from the Dominican, he was inspired by Pedro Martinez to work on it. Now, he is concentrating his efforts on improving his curveball.
At times, he shows good spin on the pitch, resulting in an offering that dives towards the ground. But it remains an inconsistent offering whose improvement Pimentel has prioritized.
“Sometimes I hang it a little bit, but I’ve been working to keep it down,” he said. “It’s good when you can see what you need to work on. That helps a lot when you can see that by yourself. When I do something wrong, I feel it and I try to get better.”
Pimentel has consistently held his own at every level he’s pitched at, despite being young at each minor league stop he’s made. Last year, he was 9-11 with a 4.06 ERA and 7.1 strikeouts per nine innings in 26 starts for Hi-A Salem, solid numbers considering he was the fourth youngest pitcher in the Carolina League to make at least 10 starts. While those are impressive numbers, however, it is worth noting that his ERA and strikeouts per nine innings have slipped in each of his four professional seasons.
Even so, the Sox have seen steady progress in Pimentel’s stuff as he has grown. As was the case with Kelly last year after he added roughly 20 pounds of muscle, the team anticipates that Pimentel’s new-found strength could create some command challenges this year, which he will most likely start in Double-A Portland.
“For the last two years, we’ve seen the power increase year over year, a couple miles an hour on the fastball each year. As he continues to gain size and strength, hopefully that will continue to improve. He’s always had a pretty good feel for throwing strikes with his fastball,” said Sox farm director Mike Hazen. “With the added size, sometimes it gets a little bit more difficult to sync it up. But he’s doing a good job of it.”
The team hopes to see him maintain that fastball command, repeating his delivery and improving both the consistency of arm speed and power on his curveball. If he can do that in 2011, then Pimentel — who was added to the 40-man roster this winter and is in big league camp or the first time — could see his prospect status elevate in the coming year.
He will take the first step in that process on Saturday.
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