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Rockies scouting report: Modesto Nuts shortstop Emerson Jimenez

Photo by Bobby Demuro
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EMERSON JIMENEZ

Organization: Colorado Rockies || 2016 club: Modesto Nuts (A-Adv.)
Position: SS || Age: 21 || DOB: December 16, 1994 || Birthplace: Santo Domingo, DR
Acquired: July 2011 (int’l free agent) || 2016 prospect rank: N/A
2016 stats: 96 games, 319 AB, .232/.269/.279/.548, 10 2B, 1 HR, 13 BB, 77 K, 28 SB

  • Jimenez’s 2016

Emerson Jimenez earns his keep on the defensive side of the ball, and 2016 once again proved, like the vast majority of his five-year pro career, that this will be the case for the Colorado Rockies’ shortstop whiz kid moving forward.

Still very young for now his second crack at High-A as a 21-year-old, Jimenez slashed .232/.269/.279 in 96 games (319 at-bats) with Modesto. Encouragingly, he stole 28 bases, good enough to tie for seventh-best in the Cal League. Discouragingly, he did it with that meager .269 on-base percentage and, as we’ll explore below, completely failed to draw any type of free passes from High-A pitching.

In the field, he led the Nuts in errors (36) and logged a .922 fielding percentage over 463 chances in 834.1 innings played at shortstop (he’s never played so much as an inning anywhere else in the field in his entire career). Those totals aren’t necessarily encouraging without context, but it’s important to remember he’s very young for the level and playing a premium position, so mistakes at this point ought to be expected as Jimenez learns his range and physical abilities.

A switch hitter, his splits against righties and lefties have been interestingly inconsistent. In 2015, he hit just .160/.177/.195 as a lefty facing right-handed pitchers in 169 at-bats at Low-A Asheville, compared to a .254/.277/.413 line in 63 at-bats from the right side of the plate. Promoted midseason to High-A, his splits then mystifyingly flipped against better pitching for the second half with the Modesto Nuts, and Jimenez slashed .228/.261/.281 in 114 at-bats as a lefty swinger, and just .179/.179/.385 in 39 at-bats from the right-handed side of the plate for the Nuts.

Then, in 2016, in a full season at Modesto, Jimenez comparatively evened out: .236/.277/.288 as a lefty swinger (250 at-bats), and .217/.239/.246 hitting from the right side of the plate (69 at-bats). Frankly, I’m not sure how to reconcile those two statistical anomalies (and granted, none are massive sample sizes), but the greater point is two-fold: (a) Jimenez has historically batted far more from the left side of the plate, as you’d expect, and (b) he also looks far more comfortable there.

Emerson Jimenez takes swings during BP this summer. Image by Bobby DeMuro.

Emerson Jimenez takes swings during BP this summer. Image by Bobby DeMuro.

  • Scouting Jimenez

Thought by some to be the best defensive player in the Rockies’ organization, and tasked with playing a premium position his entire career, there’s no question Jimenez has the footwork, range, arm, and mechanics to develop into a solid-if-not-stellar shortstop at the highest level one day. Listed at 6’1″, 160 lbs., in reality he might be slightly thicker than that, but he still has plenty of room to add good weight to his frame and should fill out a little more still as he continues to prepare for the high minors and the ultimate goal. A strong, generally accurate arm and a good sense of positioning and spatial awareness make him capable enough to stick at shortstop long-term, or function as a super utility infielder that would be proficient at any position around the horn going forward.

The question, even in light of his strong defensive projections, is his bat. Jimenez will certainly never hit for power, and he’ll most likely never hit for average, but can he do just enough (from both sides of the plate) to where he isn’t such a liability in the lineup so as to outweigh his potential contributions to a future Rockies’ infield defense? Mechanically, nothing significant stands out as glaringly bad for Jimenez at the plate; he has good balance and weight transfer, an unremarkable hand position and stride, and a short enough swing and decent bat speed, all of which shouldn’t point to any glaring red flags (or for that matter, any exceptional hit or power tool development) down the road.

Historically, his strikeout totals (usually) haven’t been egregious, although he’s an impatient hitter and very rarely walks. Considering speed is one of his few average to above-average traits, a more selective approach and far better pitch recognition will go a long ways to help him at the plate. He walked in just 3.8 percent of at-bats in 2016—surprisingly, the second highest rate of his career. He struggles with recognizing breaking balls, especially as a left-handed batter facing righties, and while he has the speed and athleticism to get on base via bunts, he has proven inconsistent in showing the feel needed to place the ball where he needs it to beat out a close play at first base.

 

It’s not all bad for Jimenez, who is a very good athlete and, to be fair, is playing a very difficult position against competition often two and three years older than him. The Rockies have more or less been aggressive with Jimenez’s development, no doubt in large part because he has the physical ability to be very good at shortstop. Predictably, that’s negatively affected his development at the plate, a lesson for the young prospect and a trade-off the Rockies appear willing to make at this point in his career.

  • Going Forward

The question in Emerson Jimenez’s future will forever be defensively-centered in one of two parts: (a) can he develop the consistency at shortstop to successfully play the position every day and lock down a premium position defensively, or (b) if not, can he quickly learn some of the subtle nuances at second and third base to morph into a defensive utility whiz kid?

The ability to do either is undoubtedly there; the reality of actualizing that ability, then, is to be determined. A corollary to whichever path comes to fruition is whether he can end up hitting just enough to earn his keep, regardless of how good he may be in the field. He need not be a .300 hitter, and he’ll never be a power threat, but he does need to develop his hit tool (and just as importantly, his plate discipline) enough to be more than a nearly-automatic out at the highest levels of professional baseball.

Beyond that, Jimenez’s career offers something of an interesting Rorschach test for evaluators, both arm-chair and field-level. His offensive stats are, to put it bluntly, generally very poor. And yet his defensive tools—and the value they hold—far outweigh what he can do with the bat, and what is readily available in a surface-level evaluation of him as a player.

Like so many minor leaguers, Jimenez is liable to wash out of the game in another year or two, or maybe the stars will align here and he’ll shoot through the minor leagues—but regardless, the focus of his game will forever be a skill set not easily conveyed in a box score or statistical evaluation. Will he ever hit just well enough to let that underlying skill set serve as his meal ticket?

Rockies scouting report: Modesto Nuts shortstop Emerson Jimenez

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