Watch out, chuckers: Jiménez slashed .340/.383/.710 in September. Is this an ominous sign for AL pitchers for 2020 and beyond? (@Lamantha21)
“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the Chicago White Sox organization. Each position is broken into a five-part series:
- Depth in the rookie levels (Dominican through Great Falls)
- Depth in A-ball (Kannapolis and Winston-Salem)
- Depth in the higher levels (Birmingham and Charlotte)
- Under the Radar-type detail on one of the White Sox players at that position
- Free agent options at that position
How did he get here?
Eloy Jiménez was quite the heralded young player, as he was considered the top international prospect in 2013 by MLB Pipeline. They said of Jimenez at the time, “Considered the crown jewel of the Class of 2013, Jimenez has one of the best baseball bodies available this year and is considered to be the total package. The teenager has impressed scouts with his intelligence, plus-speed, and gap-to-gap power that is expected to improve as he grows into his body.” He ultimately received a $2.8 million signing bonus from the Cubs that year. He struggled a bit in his first taste of baseball with the DSL Cubs in 2014, as he slashed just .227/.268/.367 with just three homers in 50 games.
The 2015 season saw much better results for Jiménez at Eugene (short-season league) as he slashed .284/.328/.418 with seven homers in 57 games. However, he really began turning it on in A-ball with South Bend in 2016, as he slashed .329/.369/.532 in 112 games with 40 doubles, three triples, 14 homers, 81 RBIs, eight stolen bases, 25 walks and 94 strikeouts. After getting off to a bit of a slow start with A+ Myrtle Beach in 2017, Jiménez picked it up a notch in June and July as his slash line improved to .271/.351/.490 with six doubles, eight homers and 32 RBIs over 42 games. Then, on July 13 of that year, he was traded along with fellow top prospect Dylan Cease, Bryant Flete and Matt Rose for southpaw Jose Quintana. After the trade, Jiménez combined to slash a mercurial .348/.405/.635 in 47 games with Winston-Salem and Birmingham with 16 doubles, one triple, 11 homers, 33 RBIs, 17 walks and 37 strikeouts.
Jiménez started the 2018 season with Birmingham and promptly destroyed Double-A pitching by slashing .317/.368/.556 in 53 games with 15 doubles, two triples, 10 homers, 42 RBIs, 18 walks and 39 strikeouts. After earning a promotion to Charlotte on June 21, he then massacred Triple-A pitching by slashing .355/.399/.597 in 55 games with 13 doubles, one triple, 12 homers, 33 RBIs, 14 walks and 30 strikeouts. Combined with both Birmingham and Charlotte, Jiménez slashed an impressive .337/.384/.577 in 108 games with 28 doubles, three triples, 22 homers, 75 RBIs, 32 walks (7.0%) and 69 strikeouts (15.1%).
Prior to beginning the 2019 season, he received a six-year, $43 million contract through 2024 with team options through 2026.
With the White Sox in 2019
For all intents and purposes, “Big Baby” enjoyed an outstanding rookie season. In 122 games spanning 468 at-bats, he slashed .267/.315/.513 with 18 doubles, two triples, 31 homers, 79 RBIs, 30 walks (6.0%) and 144 strikeouts (28.6%). He finished fourth in this year’s AL Rookie of the Year voting, and based upon his HR/G ratio, he easily could have finished the season with more 40 home runs if he hadn’t missed 40 games due to injuries. He posted a respectable 1.4 bWAR and 1.9 fWAR, which would’ve been much higher if not for his defensive difficulties this year. Though his BABIP (.308) was good, Jiménez still may have hit in some bad luck as his hard hit rate of 47.9% was in the top 8% of the league. Also, his average exit velocity (91.2 mph) far exceeded the league average (87.5%). He did hit more grounders than fly balls, which is indicated in his launch angle (9.3%), which was well below the league average of 11.2%.
Surprisingly, despite the fact that Guaranteed Rate Field is a true hitter’s ballpark, Jimenez fared far better on the road (.290/.335/.357 with 19 homers) than he did at home (.238/.291/.456 with 12 homers). Like many of his teammates, he performed much better under the lights (.282/.319/.537) than he did during the day (.249/.312/.383). As a rookie, it was unsurprising to see Jiménez encounter significant inconsistency during the year — his March-April (.240), May (.182) and July (.163) batting averages were all exceptionally low while his June (.284), August (.281), and September (.340) averages were terrific. With that said, his September numbers were absolutely astounding, as Jiménez slashed .340/.383/.710 in 24 games with eight doubles, a triple, nine homers, and 25 RBIs. Interestingly his numbers were slightly better against righties (.270/.313/.535) than versus southpaws (.259/.322/.459).
As with most hitters, Jiménez fared far better when ahead in the count. Actually, this is a bit of an understatement, as Jiménez slashed .363/.493/.699 when ahead in the count as opposed to .157/.167/.270 when behind. While the average swing rate on the first pitch is 28.3%, Jimenez far exceeded that rate, at 38.1%. Thus, pitchers were more likely to give him something off the plate, with the expectation that he’d flail away and fall behind in the count. With more patience, Jiménez obviously will find himself in more hitter-friendly counts.
Of course, discussions regarding Jiménez in 2019 are incomplete unless we also discuss his defense. Baseball-Reference gave him a -1.4 defensive WAR for 2019, while FanGraphs gave him exceptionally low grades in arm and range. Jiménez ranked in the lower-18th percentile in outfield jump, while he was often slow in getting rid of the ball — both factors in such low assessments by FanGraphs. To his credit, Jiménez will be playing winter ball in the Dominican League in an effort to improve those skills. While an overnight improvement would be incredible, a modest improvement attributable to experience and confidence seem likely to be in store, as he regularly receives praise from the White Sox coaching staff for his work ethic and willingness to improve his overall game.
Despite Jiménez’s range and arm being a huge detriment in his overall game, and despite his rough start to the year and two injuries that caused him to miss 40 games, he still managed to post a respectable 1.4 bWAR for 2019. Offensively, he needs to put himself in more hitter-friendly counts by taking the first pitch if not to his liking. If he can do that, and no doubt he will, the sky’s the limit for the young man provided he can stay healthy. While Jiménez’s overall defensive numbers last year were extremely weak, his play in left field was at least passable after the All-Star break. He’s still only 23, so with his work ethic and dedication, there is no reason to believe he can’t at least turn into an adequate outfielder. If he does this, his overall WAR numbers should skyrocket. Considering that each WAR point is worth approximately $7.7 million per FanGraphs on the free agent market, and Jiménez earned just $1.83 million in 2019, he provided the White Sox with a positive value of nearly $9 million.
What does the future have in store?
Because of the extension Jiménez signed prior to the 2019 season, he will be earning $2.33 million in 2020, with his salary gradually climbing up to $13.83 million by 2024. The White Sox have club options on him for the next two years after that, so Jiménez should be a fixture in the White Sox lineup for the next seven years. Jiménez’s infectious personality has already made him one of the faces of the franchise. He’s worked hard on his English, and he’s taking that same effort in making himself a more complete player. With the likes of Luis Robert, Yoán Moncada, Tim Anderson, Nick Madrigal and perhaps Andrew Vaughn in the not-too-distant future, Jiménez will be part of a young offensive nucleus which should steer the White Sox toward perennial pennant contention. No doubt, with more experience and adjustments (and a better lineup), he’ll also refine his offensive game by coaxing more walks (at the least, more favorable counts) and limit his strikeouts.
With the re-signing of José Abreu for three years, and with Vaughn perhaps ready to reach the majors by 2021, the likelihood of Jiménez moving to a full-time DH role likely will be placed on hold. Thus, without that safety net, it seems that Jiménez will remain in the outfield for at least the next three years. At his young age, he should improve with experience, confidence and solid coaching. However, while it’s conceivable he could be moved to right field if the White Sox add a left fielder via free agency or trade, he seems more likely to stay in left due to his limited arm and range. The White Sox won’t be complaining, however, as Jiménez should be a monstrous offensive force for the next several years.