Prospect Jimenez poised to make splash

Prospect Jimenez poised to make splash

With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Detroit squad each day this week. Today's topic: Who might surprise?

DETROIT -- Joe Jimenez has spent more than a year carrying the title of Future Tigers Closer to the mound with him. When he takes the mound in Lakeland, Fla., this spring, it'll be his first real opportunity to try to turn the future into now.

The Tigers spent last summer and fall debating the timetable on the 22-year-old Jimenez, whose power fastball and aggressive approach to hitters carried him from Class A Advanced Lakeland on Opening Day to Triple-A Toledo by the end of July. He was so dominant on the way up that the Tigers' decision not to make him a September callup caught many by surprise.

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"I know there was a big push for him to come up here," general manager Al Avila said early in the offseason, "but trust me that it would not have been in his best interests or our best interests. There were some things he needed to work on, in particular his slide, and just his command overall. There are certain things that you can do in the Minor Leagues that you can't do at the big league level."

Avila said all offseason that the organization wants Jimenez to get more Minor League time this year before he gets the call, so it would be a surprise if he opens the season in Detroit. Unlike last summer, though, Jimenez has a chance to make his case against Major League hitters.

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"When we bring him up, we want to make sure that he's coming up to have success," Avila said. "We don't want to go through the same mistake we did with Bruce [Rondon] in the past where it just didn't work out right away. We want to be a little bit more cautious with Jimenez.

"In saying that, I'm hopeful that he can contribute to our success at some point in 2017. I can't rule out that right out of the chute in Spring Training. I'm not going to rule him out. You've got to give a guy an opportunity."

An opportunity to compete for a role is all Jimenez can ask for at this point, and he'll get it as a non-roster invitee to camp. What happens from there depends not only on what he does, but on the rest of the Tigers' bullpen, too.

Rondon is the cautionary tale of writing a rookie with no big league experience into a role before Spring Training. The last Tigers Closer of the Future was given ample opportunity to win the role in 2013 after the Tigers balked on signing a veteran closer during the winter, but Rondon's struggles that spring led the Tigers to re-sign Jose Valverde and send Rondon to Toledo.

The counter to that example is 2006, when then-Tigers manager Jim Leyland saw enough in a young starter named Joel Zumaya to convert him to a reliever and carve out a role for him, starting him out in low-pressure situations before shifting him to setup. That is how Jimenez could surprise this spring.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. 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.