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North grad Jimenez hopes to make return to organized baseball

Former St. Charles North standout Danny Jimenez joined the independent Schaumburg Boomers this season after spending four seasons in the Cleveland Indians organization.
Former St. Charles North standout Danny Jimenez joined the independent Schaumburg Boomers this season after spending four seasons in the Cleveland Indians organization.

People inevitably ask Danny Jimenez which major league club his new baseball team is affiliated with.

He tells them the truth: the Schaumburg Boomers are a member of the independent Frontier League. The only place Jimenez gets called up to is the pitcher’s mound.

The change in status could jar Jimenez, a power-throwing left-hander who spent the past four seasons in the Cleveland Indians system after breaking out at St. Charles North. Instead, it keeps him focused. It’s possible to feel the cut of a release at this level, too.

“It’s been tough, you know. Mentally, it’s definitely tough. You kind of lose a little bit of confidence,” Jimenez said. “But you’ve got to gain it back quickly, because coming to play here, you’ve got to bring your stuff. It’s just like the minors. They can bring in other guys.”

Cleveland released Jimenez, a 23rd round selection in 2009, near the end of spring training after what statistically was his roughest minor league season.

Jimenez went 2-4 with a 5.28 ERA in nine games and seven starts for Class A Lake County during the home stretch of the Midwest League schedule. He missed much of the season after breaking a bone in his left pinkie when a line drive smacked off his hand in the first intrasquad game of spring training 2012.

Many of his Schaumburg teammates also are recently-released former prospects – namely right-hander Mike Giovenco, a Fenwick alumnus and Kane County Cougar from 2011-12 – leaving Jimenez optimistic about a return to organized ball.

“I think about it every day, trying to get back,” he said. “It’s hard not to. It would be one thing if I wasn’t pitching good or something like that, but I know I can pitch good and get back. It was a freak accident.”

Boomers manager Jamie Bennett and pitching coach T.J. Nall, both former minor league pitchers, don’t disagree about Jimenez’s potential. That’s largely because of his velocity.

Relying on natural strength from a 6-foot-3, 215-pound frame, Jimenez hovers around 89 to 93 mph with his fastball. Through seven starts with the Boomers, he has struck out 37 batters in 41 innings, giving Nall a solid base with which to work.

The next step is harnessing control, both physical and mental. While Jimenez’s 16 walks and five wild pitches have contributed to a 1-3 record and 4.17 ERA, the sequences and mindsets that lead to those numbers are most important.

It accomplishes nothing to dwell on mechanics after yanking a pitch three feet outside. That only can mean havoc for the next pitches.

“You start figuring that stuff out around 4, 5, 600 innings,” Nall said. “How to manage all the other stuff around you and how to really commit to that one pitch at the end.”

The Frontier League caps roster age limits at 27 apart from one veteran slot a team. Jimenez turns 24 in late September, and knows he’s right at the crossroads of when careers either take off or stall.

All he needs to do is look around. Fellow North product Jeff Holm, 24, was a Midwest League All-Star outfielder for West Michigan of the Detroit Tigers organization last week.

Kenny Smalley, who pitched for Batavia and North before becoming the first native “Kane County” Cougar, was out of the Oakland A’s system after the 2010 season, when he was 23.

“Danny’s name’s already out there. Guys know who he is and those kinds of things,” Bennett said. “He’s got a good arm, enough velocity where he’s getting noticed. He’s physically put together pretty well, so he’s not one of those guys who’s throwing under the radar.”

As Jimenez sees it, he faded away from Cleveland’s thoughts because he was rebuilding his stamina in the Midwest League last season instead of spring training.

Asked where he sees himself in a year, he answered with organized baseball. As long as he does his part and keeps moving forward.

“You never stop learning in baseball,” Jimenez said. “There’s always things you can work on and you tend to find that out when you fail. When you’re doing good, you don’t think negative things, negative thoughts.

“When things are not going good, that’s when you really dig down deep and really find ways to fix it.”

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