Zach Jemiola joked the other day that he should graduate soon from Rookie League baseball.
A member of the inaugural Grand Junction Rockies in 2012, Jemiola pitched in only five games, 7 2/3 innings, that summer after being drafted in the ninth round out of high school.
He returned the next summer and was one of the best pitchers on the staff. He logged 76 innings, most on the team, going 2-3 with a 5.21 ERA, a far cry from the 12.91 in his "freshman" season. He struck out 61 and walked only 29 in his second year, then spent his next season in Class A Asheville.
With the Tourists, Jemiola was 9-10 with a 5.06 ERA. He started 2015 with Asheville, then moved up to Class A Advanced. His full-season record was 11-7 with a 3.17 ERA. It was on to Double-A ball, and Jemiola was proving he was a prospect.
Jemiola had an impressive spring in 2017, but got caught in the numbers jam of starting pitchers, and sent to Albuquerque, the Rockies' Triple-A club.
He was on the 40-man roster, a phone call away from Denver.
And he knew it.
"Last year it was more mental than anything," he said. "I was dealing with obviously better hitters and going out and trying to do too much. Trying to get up to the big leagues, thinking every start, if it was a good start I was going to get called up."
After starting the season on the DL because of a strained oblique, Jemiola went 5-5 with a 6.83 ERA. His fastball command, which has always been a plus for him, wasn't there. He walked 38 and struck out only 40 in 81 2/3 innings.
"I definitely let it get in my head and I wasn't thinking pitch by pitch," Jemiola said. "I was thinking long-term instead of today."
Jemiola has learned the harsh business side of baseball along his journey.
The Rockies sent him to the Arizona Fall League, where he made progress, with a 2.74 ERA in 23 innings of work. He was ready for spring training.
He was on the 40-man roster, but after being optioned to Triple A again, he got hurt. The club needed a roster spot. Jemiola was dropped from the roster, then designated for assignment.
Being DFA'd is just short of being cut, and it was a jolt to Jemiola.
"On the business side it definitely makes sense," he said. "For my career, I definitely wasn't happy about it, but there's nothing I can do other than get back healthy and pitch and force them to put me back on the roster."
He cleared waivers, and Colorado re-signed him. But he was still dealing with a damaged nerve in his trapezoid, so he wound up back in Rookie ball.
"It's been interesting, it's been a roller coaster," Jemiola said earlier this week before throwing his first live batting practice session.
"I definitely didn't help myself out or my team last year with my performance in Triple-A, so going into this year I wanted to get things rolling. I felt really good after the fall league and ended up getting hurt in spring training. Another mountain to climb, I guess."
He's spent his time back in Grand Junction offering advice to young players if they have questions about pro ball higher up the ladder. He was happy to return to the Western Slope, saying he enjoyed his two years with the young Rockies and "I'd rather rehab here than some other places."
Jemiola is technically on a rehab assignment, although the rehab is mostly rest so the nerve has time to heal. He's progressed through the throwing program and threw live batting practice on Sunday. It was a first step back toward his "graduation," back to prospect status, and, he hopes, one day, big-league status.
"Hopefully I'll get a start within the next week," he said, "build up and get out of here."