White Sox outfield prospect Eloy Jimenez is healthy again after a pectoral strain delayed his start to the 2018 season at Class AA Birmingham, and he’s having the usual Jimenez-like results at the plate.
In other words, he’s tearing up Southern League pitching like he doesn’t belong there.
Baseball’s No. 4-ranked prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, Jimenez, who was acquired in the Jose Quintana trade last July, took an 11-game hitting streak into the Barons’ game Tuesday night against the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, including multiple hits in his previous seven games. Before hitting an opposite-field homer his first time up Tuesday, Jimenez was batting .324/.350/.659 with six homers, six doubles and 20 RBI in 18 games and 80 plate appearances after going hitless in his first three games.
While Michael Kopech, now pitching at Class AAA Charlotte, sits as the centerpiece of the Sox’ rebuild on the pitching side, Jimenez is that golden nugget on the offensive side. They are the brightest rays of sun shining through the clouds of the major-league club’s 9-23 start, and the sooner they get fitted for Sox uniforms, the better as far as an eager fan base is concerned.
Just exactly when Jimenez, who made a brief but big splash in major-league camp during spring training, gets called up is what everyone wants to know. A promotion to Charlotte likely would precede a move to the big club but not before August or September in all likelihood.
“That’s not something I can tell you because I don’t have control of it,’’ he said during a conference call Tuesday.
Jimenez, 21, has scaled back his spoken confidence since declaring in Class A last season that he was ready for the majors.
“That’s something the front office has to deal with, and in my case, I just try to handle the things I can control,’’ he said. “Work hard every day and perform.’’
The Sox aren’t expected to rush Jimenez in the second year of a rebuild. There are parts of his game that still need polish, as impressive as he is.
Jimenez says he knows it.
“I know I can learn and improve my game,’’ he said. “I know I can be better with strike-zone recognition, and I know I can be better in the outfield, too. Those are aspects of my game I try to focus on. It’s not just my offense. I always try to improve all around because if you want to be a good baseball player, you have to be good in all the aspects of the game.’’
Few doubt that Jimenez, a bundle of hitting for power and average who also has a sound approach at the plate, could step into the Sox’ lineup today and provide more production than any of the outfielders in Tuesday’s lineup. And while financial reasons are at play — there is money to be saved by delaying his service-time clock — it’s not hurting Jimenez or the Sox to have him patiently progress level by level.
“We haven’t talked about [Charlotte],’’ manager Rick Renteria said. “I mean, he’s only been back 3½, four weeks. But right now it’s good to see him settling in and having a nice little run.
“He got in there and seemingly didn’t skip a beat. Still settling into his approaches down there, but he’s putting the bat on the ball pretty well and driving it. Holding his own.’’
Outfielders Micker Adolfo, Luis Basabe and Blake Rutherford and right-hander Dylan Cease (part of the Quintana trade, as well) also are holding their own to strong reviews at Class A Winston-Salem, as are catchers Zack Collins and Seby Zavala and right-hander Dane Dunning at Birmingham. So there appears to be more where Jimenez and Kopech are coming from.
“What we talk about is how good it will be for us to be all together in the majors and to perform at the level we all know we can,’’ Jimenez said. “That’s like a dream for us.’’