GLENDALE, Ariz. — Staying healthy is a big deal for Eloy Jimenez.
Because Jimenez is a big deal.
And because he wants to do big things.
“I want to be available every day because I’ll have a better opportunity to hit better, to win batting championships or lead the league in RBI or homers or average,” Jimenez told the Sun-Times on Sunday.
Signed to a $43 million contract for six years, with two club options that could make the deal worth $75 million over eight seasons, Jimenez has not played in a major-league game, but he’s already thinking big. The 22-year-old left fielder manages to ooze confidence without coming off as cocky. He’s just that certain of his ability.
Getting a guarantee for that kind of cash before setting foot on a major-league diamond will do that.
Jimenez knows the injury bug can strike at any time, and he knows it from personal experience he’d rather not be able to draw from.
“That’s the reason I’m working hard at conditioning,” he said. “I’ve had problems in the past, and I don’t want to get hurt and lose games. Because it’s hard when you lose games. Then you have to get your timing back.”
Jimenez said he upped his offseason conditioning game “because that is the only way I can be healthy,” he said. “Working my upper body, lower body, running a lot. Working on all my sprints.’’
He spent a frustrating five weeks on the disabled list with a bruised right shoulder with the Cubs’ Class A affiliate at Myrtle Beach in 2017, and in 2018, he missed two weeks with a strained left chest and two more with a strained left hip at Class AA Birmingham. When he was invited to major-league camp for the first time last spring, Jimenez was limited to four games (he was 4-for-7 with two homers) because of a sore knee.
Sometimes injuries happen regardless of fitness, but being as fit as possible for the long haul of 162 games can go a long way toward warding them off.
“Everybody’s mission, knowing they’ve had those spots, is they have to stay on top of that,’’ strength-and-conditioning coordinator Allen Thomas said. “But that’s not temporary; that’s lifelong career-wise. He has to make a conscious effort to do that. We’re going to do our part. And he has done a good job.’’
Thomas knows what he’s working with in Jimenez’s large 6-4, 245-pound frame, but he will get better acquainted now that he’s about to become a major-leaguer, and for a full season.
“He’s training a little more; I think he made a conscious effort this offseason to change his body a little,” Thomas said. “He’s also still a kid. He’s a big guy, and there is always a challenge there, and obviously when he gets in the big-league life with all the things around him, he’s going to have to learn that, too.
“[Training] is always perfect in the offseason. You train, you run and you’re done in an hour and a half. But we’ll see the mental part in whether you have a good game, bad game, any game, that process continues. He’s already in a better mental state than he was last year.’’
Jimenez looks healthy, too, and in his second consecutive game since signing his deal, he went 1-for-3 with an RBI single Sunday against the Indians after reaching base all four times and belting his second homer of the spring the day before.
“Those are the things everybody expects,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He does a lot of things. You can’t hit a homer every day; hopefully the at-bats come like that. They’re solid. Another building block.”
And hopefully, as Jimenez says, he stays on the field.
“I felt good; my swing was good,” he said Saturday. “My rhythm and timing are already where they’re supposed to be.”