Albuquerque, New Mexico —— Zach Jemiola has never been the flashiest prospect with the nastiest stuff or the most velocity, and yet the former ninth round pick in the 2012 MLB Draft out of Great Oaks High School in Temecula, California has been steadily working his way through the Colorado Rockies‘ system up to Triple-A Albuquerque where he finds himself to begin 2017.
The 23-year-old spent last season with Double-A Hartford who, due to delays in the construction of their stadium, spent the entire year on the road. A difficult and extremely unique challenge, to say the least, but one that Jemiola made the most of.
“I learned how to be on the road, that’s for sure,” Jemiola told Baseball Census at the Isotopes’ Media Day events immediately before the season. “I learned how to be uncomfortable in certain situations because we were never able to settle down and be at home. It was always changing. Other than that it was honestly a good year. It was fun, we had a good time. It was different at first but after a couple weeks into it, it was honestly the norm.”
If the wear and tear of the travel had an effect on him, it sure didn’t show up in his numbers. In 27 starts for the Yard Goats, Jemiola went 8-10 with a 4.39 ERA, a 1.43 WHIP and 92 strikeouts in 162.0 innings—more than serviceable numbers as a starter permanently on the road, with the 92 strikeouts being tied for the second highest total of his career.
“It was solid, it wasn’t great by any means,” Jemiola said of that season. “There’s always room for improvement and there were a few starts that got away from me, but overall I felt solid. It was good, it’s no different, you wake up and go to the ball park and pitch. It’s just different if it’s in a hotel or your own place.”
All of the work that Jemiola has done to improve as a pitcher will be put to the test this year, in the hitter’s paradise that is Isotopes Park. The challenge will be made greater as he looks to do it without relying so much on his number two pitch, his changeup.
“[My changeup] is a pitch I like to go to in certain counts and it’s the pitch I’m most comfortable with other than my fastball, I feel like I can throw it for a strike when I need to,” Jemiola said. “My changeup is honestly a flyball pitch, so it’s not really the pitch I’m going to come here thinking ‘okay this is going to help me out.’ But it will help me with pitching in general. It’s probably the most important pitch you need to have. I like to throw it in fastball counts.”
The changeup has the potential to be a swing-and-miss offering, thought it’s right now more typically a pop-up and fly-ball machine—just as Jemiola said—and letting opponents hit the ball up in the air won’t always work in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. But already being in Albuquerque just a few days, Jemiola has developed a plan of attack that relies heavily on his other secondary pitches in an effort to try and avoid flyballs, because as he’s been told by some of his teammates with experience pitching at Isotopes Park, the ball flies.
“For here it’s going to be using the sinker and the slider and the behind in the count curveball to try and get guys to roll over and not get too many flyballs,” he said of his strategy.
He comes into Albuquerque well prepared, even if the process didn’t quite produce the results in his inaugural start for the ‘Topes this week, when he pitched 5.2 innings, giving up nine hits, five runs, walking two and striking out three.
Part of that preparation, as a nod to his strong season for Hartford, allowed Zach Jemiola the opportunity to pitch for the Salt River Rafters in the Arizona Fall League. In 22.1 innings, he went 1-3 with a 5.64 ERA and a 1.343 WHIP, pushing it over the top to make the 2016 season by far the single heaviest workload of his career to date. It also came against the best hitters he’s ever faced.
“The talent was really good,” Jemiola said. “Everywhere I pitch is a learning experience and you can take good things from it, or you can take bad things from it. It was good on the fact of guys being better hitters than I’ve ever faced so that was cool.”
It’s easy for someone in Jemiola’s shoes to have a chip on his shoulder, being a mid-round pick forgotten on the depth chart who has never been on any top prospect lists.
But that isn’t the way that he goes about his business. Instead, he just continues to defy the critics at every stop as he climbs the ladder in the Colorado Rockies farm system. Ask him if he has a chip, and he’ll just talk about the work he’s done to strike more hitters out—like his noticeable velocity increase in the AFL compared to this time a year ago.
“I mean, I would like to say that I’ve been working on different pitches to be able to strike guys out more often, and I feel like I’ve done a pretty decent job of that in Fall League and then in big league camp this year,” Jemiola said. “I’ve been working on certain pitches to put guys away with, but yeah. I take pride in getting early contact and being able to go deep in games, and every year I’m leading the league, or up there in innings pitched and I take pride in that for sure. So it goes both ways.”
Zach Jemiola knows who he is as a pitcher, and if he continues to develop his game the way he has so far, including getting more swings and misses in a hitter’s haven like Albuquerque, it’s time to start paying attention to the Colorado Rockies prospect. If you don’t, he’s going to sneak up on you—just as he’s been doing his entire career.
To read our Zach Jemiola scouting report, please click here.
To visit Baseball Census’ Zach Jemiola player page, please click here.