The Detroit Tigers are continuing to strengthen their bullpen. To do so, one of the key players they are bringing to Spring Training is Joe Jimenez. What makes Jimenez’s invitation to Spring Training interesting is the fact that many people regard him as the future closer of the Detroit Tigers. While he is yet to actually face hitting at the Major League level, he is the fifth-ranked prospect in the Tigers’ organization. He features a slider the reaches the low 80’s, as well as a live fastball the can reach the upper 90’s (even having hit triple digits before).
One big question going into Spring Training is, “What should to Tigers do with Jimenez this year?”. The fact that Francisco Rodriguez only has one year left on his contract makes this a pivotal year in terms of the progress and development of Jimenez. If the Tigers truly want to groom him to be the next closer, then they need to start testing him out in pressure situations. Obviously, the Tigers will have a more clear view once they see him in Spring Training, but to start the season, what makes the most sense is to put him in the eighth inning to set-up for K-Rod. He has dynamic stuff and they want him to eventually be “the guy” closing out games, so why not take the chance? If things do not work out, then there is still Bruce Rondon, who can slide into that eighth inning. But if they choose to use Jimenez in the eighth and push Rondon to the seventh, it adds a greater amount of depth to the bullpen. It means that Alex Wilson will have one fewer inning each game to need to work through. Then, an assumption can be made that some combination of Mike Pelfrey, Anibal Sanchez, or Matt Boyd will also be in the bullpen; depending on whichever one does not earn a starting spot. They will also have Justin Wilson, who cannot be nearly as bad in 2017 as he was last year, along with Kyle Ryan as lefty options out of the bullpen.
Looking deeper into the season, this should unfold one of two ways for the Tigers. First, if the Tigers are successful, then the bullpen should remain intact the way it has been listed. Hopefully, the bullpen becomes more consistent from top to bottom, so this no longer becomes a major weakness for the team. Rodriguez should remain as the closer for the Tigers this last year, and the fans finally see how explosive Jimenez is. Ideally, this is the best-case scenario.
Another scenario would be the Tigers falling apart. If the team begins to fall apart and there is a team in contention who needs a closer, then the Tigers would trade Rodriguez, since he is in the last year of his contract, and then move Jimenez into the closer’s role (assuming he has been successful in the eighth). This would be a worst-case scenario move, not only because it means the Tigers are out of contention, but because it would hinder the Tigers bullpen in the shuffling of players.
Tigers fans have been waiting for a lights-out closer for some time now. While Rodriguez was not awful last year, he certainly was not lights-out. The last time the Tigers had a lights-out closer, it was Joel Zumaya, and that was short-lived due to injuries. Hopefully, Joe Jimenez is able to bring a powerful arm to the Tigers bullpen and help sure-up those late innings. If he really is going to become the future closer of the Tigers, then having a successful year this year will be a critical step in that direction.