Eloy Jimenez will ‘work hard,’ let chips fall where they may, keep smiling

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Eloy Jimenez smiles for the camera after a workout as he head to the White Sox clubhouse with Jose Abreu (right).

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Eloy Jimenez’s smiling face is a constant at White Sox camp. Wherever the third-ranked prospect in baseball goes, he lights up a room.

It won’t be long before Jimenez’s happiness begins to spread around Guaranteed Rate Field and throughout major-league clubhouses from coast to coast. Just exactly when remains a good question, although the smart money is on the Sox waiting until late April to make Jimenez a major-leaguer.

That’s what decisions like the one on Jimenez are based on — smart money, unfair as it might seem. By holding him back for 20 more days in the minors, the Sox will get seven years of contract control instead of six. It’s something of a raw deal for players and fans, but because of the collective-bargaining agreement, Jimenez faces the same fate Kris Bryant, Ronald Acuna Jr. and George Springer dealt with in the past and the same one the Blue Jays’ top prospect, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., is facing now.

Jimenez is not voicing objections, as he and his agent did late last season, when he proclaimed he was “beyond ready” for the majors but didn’t receive a call-up after manhandling Class AAA pitching.

“I’m going to work hard, I’m going to play hard to break with the team,’’ he said Wednesday, echoing the sentiments he shared during the winter. “But it’s not my decision. All I can control is play hard, and they have the other part.’’

Meanwhile, Jimenez goes about his work as if nothing bothers him. Told it’s evident for all to see, all of the time, he beams.

“It’s my personality all the time,’’ he said. “I enjoy what I’m doing.’’

Through it, he seems to be heeding the advice given by Jose Abreu: Work hard, be punctual and be respectful.

“He’s an outstanding guy,” Abreu said. “He’s here every day early, working hard. I’m excited and eager to have him in the lineup every day with me and to be a part of this team and the things that we can accomplish.”

Jimenez played left field and batted sixth in the Sox’ Cactus League game Wednesday against the Reds at Camelback Ranch. That’s two notches lower in the lineup than where he batted in his first two games, which resulted in two strikeouts and one infield hit.

“I feel really good,’’ he said. “A little off on my timing, but I feel great other than that. It’s normal. I know I’m going to get there.’’

He wasn’t there a few hours later during his first at-bat against Reds right-hander Tanner Roark. After taking strike two on a slider that might’ve been off the plate, Jimenez swung through a high fastball for his third strikeout of the spring. It was the second time Jimenez has whiffed on three pitches.

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The next time up, Jimenez flied to the wall in center against righty Anthony DeSclafani. On his third and final at-bat, Jimenez struck out on four pitches against Matt Wisler, another righty.

He’s 1-for-8 with four strikeouts in the Sox’ first six Cactus League games.

It’s February. But it’s the prospect everyone is waiting for.

So there will be scrutiny.

Jimenez expects it, and he worked extra-hard in the offseason, improving his diet and working out with hopes of avoiding the injury bug that sneaked up on him during his first Sox camp last year. His imposing, long-legged 6-4 frame looks, well, imposing.

“My body is in shape; I feel better than last year,” he said. “I feel lighter; I can run better. I feel great.’’

For now, that’s probably all that matters.

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