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Colorado Rockies prospect rankings: No. 12, Jesus Tinoco

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2019 could be a crucial year for The Third Prospect

12. Jesus Tinoco (486 points, 32 ballots)

Jesus Tinoco’s position as the third piece of the return in the 2015 Troy Tulowitzki trade over three years ago is still, for many PuRPs voters, the defining facet of his prospect status. For others, it was Tinoco’s 40 man roster appointment after the 2017 season or his Futures Game nod during 2018. Whatever the reason, the Venezuelan righty is a player who PuRPs voters have been watching for quite some time.

That’s not to say it’s been a smooth ride for Tinoco. After a lights-out performance post-trade with Asheville in 2015, Tinoco struggled mightily in a 2016 High A stint and also in a return trip to Asheville after he was demoted. The 6’4” hurler lost his mechanics and was completely out of whack to the point that the Rockies left him unprotected from the Rule 5 draft. After going un-selected, Tinoco re-dedicated himself to rebuilding his delivery and found success in a return engagement to High A in 2017 to the point where the Rockies felt he was worthy of a 40 man slot at the end of the year. Indeed, from August on, Tinoco had a 3.03 ERA with 43 strikeouts in 38 23 innings.

In 2018, Tinoco finally got the bump up to Double-A, where he was 1.4 years younger on average than hitters in the Eastern League. Tinoco made 26 starts with Hartford, amassing 141 innings while compiling 132 strikeouts (8.4 K/9) against 38 walks (2.4 BB/9), both significant improvements over the prior year. Moreover, while Tinoco’s 4.79 ERA hardly stands out, his 3.78 xFIP indicates that he was a bit unfortunate to receive the results he did at the level. As he did in 2017, Tinoco finished strong with a 2.95 ERA over 7 starts and 36 IP in August and September, striking out 36 while walking just 8 in the process.

Tinoco followed up his Double-A campaign with a stint in the elite Arizona Fall League. In the AFL, he pitched in a relief role, adding 15 23 frames in 10 appearances. Tinoco struck out 14 against 6 walks en route to a 1.72 ERA and 1.09 WHIP to put a coda on his 2018 campaign.

Here’s some video of Tinoco from the AFL courtesy of 2080 Baseball:

Accompanying the above video is this report on Tinoco by 2080’s Adam McInturff. The report is well worth reading in its entirety as it provides a wide variety of nuggets on each of Tinoco’s offerings (he’s more negative on the curveball than I’ve seen elsewhere) and other relevant traits, but here’s the conclusion:

Physical power arm, chance to miss bats w/ FB and SL in short stints. He will get chances to develop as a SP, but don’t see delivery or approach holding up in rotation. Raw stuff fits better in the ‘pen for me, ceiling of a setup reliever if he takes to a late-innings role.

For additional video and a scouting report on Tinoco from 2017, Bobby DeMuro of Baseball Census has you covered. Here’s his conclusion from that time:

Hittable now with an average slider and a below average changeup, I don’t think there’s a significant long-term projection in keeping Tinoco in the starting rotation. Sure, at his age, he may be best served starting games the rest of this year—and maybe ever next year, too—but down the line he ought to be ticketed for the bullpen. His arm strength is far better now compared to early last year, though, and if he eventually starts seeing time in shorter stints, that will play up his velocity on both the fastball and slider. It’s easy to imagine him a middle reliever with an outside shot at being a set-up man if he can eventually add a tick to his velocity out of the ‘pen and work in the mid-90s with an upper 80s slider.

Tinoco didn’t make the FanGraphs top Rockies prospect list back in May 2018, but Eric Longenhagen had this blurb on him in July 2018:

Tinoco didn’t make the Rockies’ offseason list, as I thought he had an outside shot to be a reliever but little more. His strikeout rate is way up. He still projects in the bullpen, sitting 93-95 with extreme fastball plane that also adds artificial depth to an otherwise fringe curveball.

Tinoco currently ranks 20th in the system according to MLB.com:

Tinoco’s best pitch is his fastball that usually ranges from 93-95 mph and tops out at 97 with sink. He has a pair of power breaking balls, with his curveball and slider both plus pitches at their best but also inconsistent. He’s making strides with his changeup though it still ranks as his fourth-best pitch.

Tinoco’s downturn came when his delivery became too violent, causing him to fall off toward first base and lose any semblance of command. He has cleaned up his mechanics, taking a more direct route to the plate and doing a better job of locating his pitches. Though the Rockies will continue to develop him as a starter, he could have success as a late-inning reliever with a power arsenal.

Highlighting the above evaluation is the 60 fastball grade, paired with 55 grades on his slider and curveball. That’s already a strong start on a great relief profile, but if Tinoco can improve the changeup and control he’d be a viable starter (and thus more valuable), which separates the 23-year old from most of the other comparable relief arms you’ve seen so far in the PuRPs list. If he’s a reliever (and the scouts seem overwhelmingly to think that’s what he’ll be), Tinoco doesn’t have the pure standout fastball of some of his competitors, but his strong secondary offerings make him a tough opponent for opposing hitters, perhaps in a multi-inning role.

In the crowded field of potential starters in or near the Colorado rotation, Tinoco falls near the bottom at present. His 40 man roster spot makes a call-up an easy procedural move, but Tinoco is still on the fringes of that picture and a candidate for DFA should a better option come along. On the reliever front, Tinoco faces a similarly daunting slate of challengers for bullpen spots but also is a more competitive candidate in that arena. His option clock is now ticking, which will increase Colorado’s urgency to see what they have in Tinoco against more advanced competition, likely Triple-A to begin the year with a cup of coffee with the Rockies possible later in 2019. In the end, the stuff, potential rotation utility, and proximity led me to rank Tinoco 13th in the system with a 40 Future Value grade.