That first day, OK, maybe it was a little funny. Eloy Jimenez was in Myrtle Beach, Fla., home of the advanced-Class A Cubs, last July when he learned he’d been traded to the White Sox in a package for Jose Quintana. Well, guess who was playing at Myrtle Beach at the time? Yep, the Sox’ advanced-Class A team, Winston-Salem.
“I go from one side to the other side, and I was just joking with all the guys,” Jimenez, a 21-year-old corner outfielder and monster prospect, recalled. “But the next day, I was like, ‘This is really weird for me.’ It was really hard.”
Six months later, Jimenez has gotten over the sting of being traded by the Cubs, who’d signed him when he was 16 with a bonus of $2.8 million. Yet he still thinks of some of the little things he misses, such as — would you believe it? — the color blue. Sox black is “cool,” he insists, but something about that Cubs blue just plain suited him.
Oh, well. Jimenez isn’t complaining. At the opening of SoxFest downtown Friday, the striking 6-4 Dominican — great smile, huge hands, bulging confidence — made it clear just how much he intends to make the best of his new situation.
“I want to be one of the best young players in all of baseball,” he said.
It’s as fine a plan as any. But when?
“I’m seeing maybe three years. That is my goal. I’m working for that, and I know it’s going to happen.”
Understand this: Jimenez doesn’t see his big-league career taking off in three years. To be clear, that’s when he’s expecting it to be a firmly established fact that he has become, well, let’s call it Chicago’s next Kris Bryant. It was Bryant who impressed Jimenez most in the Cubs organization, and it’s Bryant’s path from Rookie of the Year to MVP — and, not for nothing, World Series champion — that Jimenez hopes to follow.
Suffice it to say, the guy is thinking big.
“I want to be an All-Star my first year,” he said, “and all my career.”
If Jimenez is all he cracks himself up to be, just think of the ramifications on our city’s baseball scene. Almost no matter what Quintana accomplishes in the Cubs’ rotation, the Sox will have won a milestone trade between the teams. A superstar will taunt Cubs fans from the South Side for, what, 10 years? Fifteen?
Have we gotten ridiculously ahead of ourselves yet?
Of course we have. It’s our civic duty, much as it’s Sox GM Rick Hahn’s duty to try to keep expectations of this fast-rising organization — and of Jimenez in particular — on simmer rather than full boil.
“If, at age 21, he spends the entire year in [Class AA] and performs close to the level that he performed at for the three weeks he was there [in 2017], that’s a really, really good developmental year,” Hahn said. “Now, the good ones have a way of sort of changing your timeline on that, and it’s not going to shock me if, at some point over the course of the summer, that Eloy forces our hand a little bit.”
Translation: Everybody out of the way — the Eloy Train will come blasting into town in no time flat.
No, not really. But all who’ve seen him swing the bat agree there’s something special here.
“The minute I saw that guy, I knew he was going to be a stud,” said pitcher Dylan Cease, who likewise was part of the Cubs’ package for Quintana. “The ball comes off his bat differently. He’s incredible. And he’s a great guy, too.”
Sounds downright Bryant-like, doesn’t it? Jimenez surely would agree.
Staring at a picture of himself in Cubs gear on a reporter’s phone, Jimenez smiled as he shook his head.
“It’s still a little bit strange,” he said, “but it’s good.”
Good won’t cut it. This is about being great.
Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.