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Imported Goods: The Significance of Stolmy Pimentel

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Current Red Sox pitching prospect Stolmy Pimentel may not be amidst his most aesthetically pleasing minor league season to date, statistically speaking, yet he remains widely regarded as one of Boston’s most promising developmental talents.

Pimentel’s arsenal is strikingly similar to that of former Red Sox prospect and current major league All-Star, Clay Buchholz. His four-seam fastball, which typically sits in the low-to-mid 90’s, acts as an ideal set-up pitch for his plus curveball and what is considered a truly advanced changeup relative to other pitchers in his age group. While his pitch selection mirrors Buchholz’s, his frame (6’3" - 190 lbs) projects more along the lines of Chicago Cubs’ pitcher Carlos Zambrano -- which isn’t necessarily negative.

Despite sporting a 6-8 record to go along with an ERA of 4.36 through 20 starts as a part of Boston’s Class A affiliate, the Salem Red Sox, in 2010, Pimentel’s promise hasn’t gone unnoticed. Not only was he named a Pre-Season All-Star for the second consecutive season earlier this year, the young right-hander also earned the opportunity to feature his repertoire on a national stage -- pitching in the 2010 MLB All-Star Futures Game.

Representing more than simply another potential-laden pitcher amongst a farm system that has produced the likes of Jon Lester, Daniel Bard, Jonathan Papelbon and Buchholz in just the past few years, Pimentel has the chance -- and more importantly, the skill set -- to establish himself as one of the most notable international signing successes in the Red Sox’s recent history.

As part of an organization known for being anything but timid in terms of allocating financial resources towards signing bonuses awarded to foreign-born prospects -- especially for those that hail from the Dominican Republic -- the $25,000 bonus that landed Pimentel in July of 2006 helped shield the then 17 year-old from any added pressures that accompany being a highly paid youngster in one of the most demanding franchises in Major League Baseball. It also didn’t hurt that the Red Sox spent a collective $1.1 million that very same month on two other Dominican born teenagers -- Engel Beltre and Oscar Tejada -- neither of whom have quite panned out as originally anticipated to this point.

"I went out and pitched, and they saw me when I was young. They were impressed that I was young and had speed, that I had a good fastball. That’s when they started to get interested in me. The Red Sox were the only team I practiced with."

Prior to the beginning of this season, Over the Monster introduced its inaugural 2010 Annual. In it, I wrote an article entitled, A Taxing Trend in International Signings, concerning the Red Sox’s inability to efficiently designate bonus dollars to international signings -- weighing the amount awarded to certain players with the relative return on investment. This is a trend exemplified by the signing, and subsequent developmental success, of Stolmy Pimentel.

It wasn’t until the early 2000’s that the front office began appointing a large sum of both human and monetary resources to scouting overseas. However, since then, the organization has dropped the veritable ball more often than not on signings like Sang-Hoon Lee (2000 - $1,050,000), Gary Galvez (2003 - $500,00), Luis Soto (2003 - $500,00), Michael Almanzar (2007 - $1,500,00) and the aforementioned Engel Beltre and Oscar Tejada (2003 - $575,000 / $525,000).

All of which amplifies frustrations when you consider that the greatest international acquisition to date -- Dominican shortstop Hanley Ramirez in 2000 -- was signed for a mere $20,000 (less than 2% of the initial cost accompanying fellow 2000 signing, Sang-Hoon Lee). In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find another notable overseas signing that came with a price tag less than six-figures.

That being said, one could conceivably argue that Stolmy Pimentel has a significant chance to eventually be considered the Red Sox’s most noteworthy international signing that resulted from superior scouting as opposed to a superior bankroll -- and really, that’s not saying much upon further review of his competition.

From the beginning of 2000 to June of 2007, the Red Sox spent a total of $5,760,000 on the bonuses of twenty-three foreign-born signings [minus those acquired without a necessary signing bonus] for an average exceeding $250,000 per prospect. Of those twenty-three, just seven remain in the confines of the organization and only one has contributed to the major league club in the last few seasons -- that being Venezuelan pitcher Felix Doubront, who has appeared in three games for the Red Sox this season (1-2, 4.11 ERA).

So, just how likely is it that Stolmy Pimentel’s name at some point be likened to someone like Hanley Ramirez’s in terms of return on initial investment [signing bonus]? With still so much room for growth and necessary development, the answer to that question remains up in the air.

Pimentel is still raw at the age of twenty and assuming him to be savior of the international scouting department’s respect is probably premature. After all, he has yet to even pitch above the Class A level and the decrease in his winning percentage since the beginning of his career has only been paralleled by the increase in his ERA during that time -- which can only suggest that he’s regressing, right?

Not necessarily.

For one, in 2009 while pitching in low-A ball, his strikeout ratio (7.9 K/9) was almost as impressive as that of his walks (2.2 BB/9). Essentially what that can mean is that he threw an enormous amount of pitches in the strike zone -- which is ultimately the goal at that level -- in a league where developing hitters are eagerly swinging at almost everything. Not to mention that his BABIP [batting average on balls in play] was abnormally high at .350; which to me, means that Pimentel was partially a victim of circumstance and not poor performance. This may have lead to his [at that time] career-highs in ERA (3.82) WHIP (1.394) and H/9 (10.3).

In 2010, pitching for high-A Salem, Pimentel has again established a career-high ERA of 4.21 while amassing what currently stands as his first sub-.500 record as a starter. Unfortunately for those who use simple statistics such as wins, losses and ERA when judging a pitcher, often times they fail to truly depict the progress made -- especially in prospects at this level.

Also, the jump from low to high-A minor league baseball is more significant than most are prone to believe. This is evident when you look at his H/9 (8.8) and more importantly his GO/AO (ground ball/fly ball ratio), which is the highest it’s been since 2007 at 1.16. Last season, Pimentel’s GO/AO was a career-low at 0.88 and was a main area of concern that warranted addressing during his ascent through the minor league ranks.

The similarities in development between Hanley and Stolmy at the onset of their minor league careers -- despite the differing nature of their positions -- is rather remarkable.

In 2001, as an eighteen year-old signed out of the Dominican Republic (to a bonus of $20,000), Hanley Ramirez stood out as a member of the DSL Red Sox. In 54 games, Ramirez his .345, slugged .533, stole 13 bases and drove in 34 runs on his way to being named the DSL Red Sox’s Player of the Year. He would continue his domination as a nineteen year-old in 2002 playing for the Lowell Spinners (also named the Spinners‘ Player of the Year in 2002). However, the following year -- his first in high-A ball -- Hanley struggled a bit. In 111 games his batting average dipped to .275, he was caught stealing 13 times and he struck out every 5.7 at-bats (as compared to his once per 8.9 at-bats to that point in his career).

Pimentel, in his first season with the GSL Red Sox at the age of seventeen (2007), went 3-0 with a 2.90 ERA in 13 starts. He allowed just 44 hits in 62 innings pitched while striking out 60. His 6.4 H/9 number lead to a career low WHIP of 1.065, and ultimately, a vote into the DSL All-Star game. The following season, like Hanley before him, moving to low-A ball at Lowell did little to derail Stolmy’s success. In his 11 starts, Pimentel went 5-2 with a 3.14 ERA. His BB/9 dropped nearly one point and his SO/BB did the exact opposite.

While the likelihood of Stolmy Pimentel becoming a household name as Hanley Ramirez currently is remains hypothetical, one thing is for certain -- with such a prevalent misallocation of funding in this particular manner, Pimentel could represent a rarity for Boston’s international scouting department; an increasingly refined, but once very raw, cost efficient signing via overseas.

Especially in the event that Boston’s international spending trends similar to the way it has been in recent years.

Since July of 2007, Boston has awarded nearly $17 million in signing bonuses to fourteen different international acquisitions; the smallest being $125,000 (Roman Mendez, 2007) and the average being $1,213,393.

With such a distinct increase in attention towards international scouting and acquisitions comes an even more prominent escalation in spending as a whole, which is, of course, understandable. However, the growth of the two needn’t necessarily do so parallelly.

As players like Hanley Ramirez -- and perhaps someday soon, Stolmy Pimentel -- shows us, you don't always get what you pay for, but sometimes it's for the better.