Over the weekend, the Chicago Cubs signed two minor league pitchers to minor league deals, and each is about as intriguing as those signings get.
First up, there’s righty Carlos Pimentel (if you can say his name without hearing Chris Berman add “loaf” to the end, I envy you), who comes to the Cubs from the Rangers’ system, so it’s a good bet that the Cubs know him well. Indeed, I vaguely recall rumors from midseason that had Pimentel as one of the pitchers on the “B” list of PTBNLs from which the Cubs could choose in the Matt Garza deal if they didn’t opt for Neil Ramirez. Now the Cubs get him for free.
Pimentel has intermittently been a top 30 prospect in the Rangers’ system, but, having signed as a teenager, didn’t quite break through by the time he qualified for minor league free agency (he’s now 23, and turns 24 in December). He’s a tall, thinner guy (6’3″, 180 lbs), and tends to keep it in the low-90s.
The last three years, as Pimentel has reached the AA level (and mostly hung around there), the righty starter has seen his H/9 drop dramatically and his K/9 rise. But he’s also seen his BB/9 tick up to an unacceptably high level – until 2013, when it dropped back to a passable 3.1 per 9. Combine that with the uptick in strikeouts, and he sported an excellent 3.02 K/BB last year at AA. As I said, as far as minor league signings go, Pimentel is about as good as it gets for pitchers. At 24, you’d like to see him serving as depth at AAA next year, and maybe the Cubs’ coaching staff can get him over the hump that he couldn’t quite clear as a Ranger.
Pimentel is currently pitching to mixed results in the Dominican Winter League (20.2 IP, 2.61 ERA, 17 K, 11 BB, 18 H, 1 HR).
The Cubs also grabbed Paolo Espino, whom the Cubs signed away from the Indians’ system. He’ll pitch next season at age 27, so he’ll be competing for a bullpen job in Spring Training, or will wind up as depth at AAA Iowa. Espino is shorter (5’10″), but puts a little something behind it (190 lbs). He’s mostly been a starter, though he did pitch in relief a little bit last year for the Indians’ AAA squad.
Unlike your typical 26/27-year-old minor league signing, I can’t for the life of me figure out why Espino never received a shot in the big leagues. He started playing professionally at age 20, so he’s had plenty of time to progress through the Indians’ system, which he did with aplomb. Although susceptible to the long ball, at every level, Espino has kept his walks down and his strikeouts way up. For his minor league career, his K/BB mark is 3.26, and in 149.2 AAA innings, it’s 3.65. Obviously K/BB isn’t everything, and you can’t scout the numbers, but Espino has the look of a guy who should have received a shot in the big leagues at some point over the last few years. Interestingly, Espino reached AA at just 22, and then bounced back and forth between AA and AAA for the next four years. He didn’t have much AAA success until this season, so maybe that was what was holding him back.
Still, on a minor league flyer? No question it’s worth the minimal investment. FanGraphs did a major league equivalency on this guy, and his AAA time last year projects out to a 2.5 WAR at the big league level over a full season. I wouldn’t read too much into that, other than noting that he pitched well enough at AAA last year to probably deserve a big league look. From there, maybe you have something.
Like Pimental, Espino is currently having mixed results in winter ball, pitching in the Venezuelan Winter League. He’s struck out 38 in 34 innings and walked just 9, but he’s also given up 8 homers. That’s helped him to a 6.35 ERA.