Scottsdale, Ariz. -- When the Colorado Rockies drafted Zach Jemiola in the ninth round back in 2012 out of a high school in Temecula, California, a little growth through adversity was probably expected. So when Jemiola struggled that summer in Grand Junction, and then again the next year in a repeat on the Western Slope, neither time should have been that much of a surprise to the Rockies.
But at some point, pitchers need to begin to figure things out, though they may be young and unaccustomed to pro baseball. Fortunately for both Jemiola and the Rockies, then, the righty began to do just that in Low-A Asheville in 2014. Then, he really turned the corner in 2015, splitting time between the Tourists and the High-A Modesto Nuts, even at one point making it onto our list of the Rockies' top 30 prospects.
He's not in the top 30 heading into this season, though that's more of a function of how many good players are in the Rockies' system than it is an indictment of his summer, for it was a strong one. So strong, at least relative to his first experiences in pro ball, that Jemiola has trouble describing how far he's come in his professional career.
"Man, I didn’t know anything coming out of high school, I thought a hard fastball was going to get you wins and it’s nothing like that," Jemiola admitted to Purple Row after finishing up throwing in an intrasquad scrimmage, shown in the video above, against other Rockies minor leaguers.
"There’s the mental game, the physical game, commanding strikes," Jemiola added. "Being able to pitch is I think what I’ve learned the most, not trying to just blow a fastball by every guy. Honestly the main thing is probably maturity, though. Both on the field and off the field."
That Jemiola would mention the inability to throw fastballs by hitters is important; the righty's self-described "bread and butter" actually runs diametrically opposed to a power fastball, and it's that change-up that he uses—often even ahead of a breaking ball—to induce hitters into poor swings and weak contact.
"That’s pretty much my go to pitch here," Jemiola said of his change-up. "I had that in high school, kind of carried over here, made a few adjustments with it, and I feel really good with it. It’s worked out pretty well. Obviously there are different times to throw different pitches, but I feel comfortable throwing that in any situation."
Watching the video above, it's apparent just how much Jemiola works off his changeup, getting weak swings on it from several different hitters even in the few at-bats of footage we have above. Facing minor leaguers like Daniel Montano, Eric Toole, and Chris Keck, Jemiola shows ability to specifically keep left-handers off balance—something many right-handers struggle with—by employing his tumbling change-up.
That pitch helped him succeed in Asheville in 2015, and then eventually make the jump to High-A Modesto to finish the year. There, he appeared in 16 games (14 starts) for the Nuts, going 5-4 with a 4.08 ERA, and logging 6.9 K/9 against just 2.7 BB/9. Jemiola took that good work right into the winter, and now, into March.
"I feel good, I prepared this offseason to be where I am now, and I feel ready," Jemiola said. "Obviously there are a few tweaks I need to make here and there before the season, since I’ve only gotten to throw to live hitters a handful of times. Nothing extreme, just little mechanical things. Staying closed longer, not flying open. Other than that, I feel good."
Mechanically, I found Jemiola pretty conventional and quick to the plate; he certainly doesn't have long arm action. That will probably help him hide the ball better from lefties than, say, Parker French's long, highly visible arm action. There is an interesting note on Jemiola's mechanics that was signficant to me, though; the righty is a drop-and-drive guy (as opposed to tall-and-fall), and with it, he tends to drop his back shoulder while driving to the plate.
Having only seen him pitch in person once, I'm not confident in calling this a fact of his delivery, but I guess with some level of confidence that when Jemiola runs into trouble, it's from his back side dragging, his back shoulder dropping, and his arm action leaving him under the ball, susceptible to leaving it up in the zone since he's not beginning on as extreme downward of a plane as we've seen with some other pitchers' mechanics.
In and of itself, that's not a problem; pitchers like Roy Oswalt have succeeded as drop-and-drive hurlers in the big leagues. But it bears watching should you ever see Jemiola start in person; I have a feeling that as the game wears on, and his pitch count increases, Jemiola probably more often leaves balls up in the zone after failing to stay on top of his release point due to fatigue.
Regardless, expect him to start the season at High-A Modesto to finish what he began there last summer, or even in Double-A Hartford if the Rockies feel the 21-year-old is up for the test. To Jemiola's credit, he wants the biggest challenge he can get.
"My goal is to get to Double-A, but I can’t control that, so wherever they send me I’m going to do my best," Jemiola said. "I’m going to do whatever I can to move up, and obviously the end goal is to pitch in the big leagues and win a World Series. But we’ll see what happens this year, take it one game at a time and one pitch at a time."
Thoughtful and well-spoken, Jemiola conceded that whole "one pitch at a time" attitude is often idealistic.
"There’s not one guy out here that can say honestly they are not thinking about what's ahead of them," Jemiola admitted. "But it’s something you have to put in the back of your mind. That’s something I’ve actually been able to do pretty well these last couple of years, being able to do my thing and just throw one pitch at a time."
So where does that leave the righty?
"Honestly, I have no idea," Jemiola said, laughing. "We’ll see what happens. You’ll know as soon as I know."
We'll do our best to hold him to that. In the mean time, at least we know he has a future in golf if this whole baseball thing doesn't work out.
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