GLENDALE, Ariz. — The White Sox are banking on what everyone is saying will become of Eloy Jimenez — that, without a doubt, he’s a can’t-miss prospect who will be a star outfielder for years to come.
Jimenez hasn’t taken a single at-bat in the major leagues, but he is about to be rewarded with a deal worth $77 million, sources confirmed Wednesday. It will be the most money given to a prospect who hasn’t played an inning in the majors.
The much-needed, welcome good news around a spring-training camp that hasn’t had much of it broke Wednesday morning. Ken Rosenthal first reported the deal at $43 million over six years guaranteed. With two option years, it could be maximized to $77 million.
Of most significance for the immediate future, the deal paves the way for Jimenez to start in left field on Opening Day next Thursday in Kansas City. Jimenez is the third-ranked prospect in baseball, according to MLB Pipeline.
An announcement was not expected Wednesday or Thursday as details are ironed out, and the Sox are certain to keep Jimenez, who is in minor-league camp, away from media Thursday.
“I don’t want to speculate; we’ll leave it at that,” manager Rick Renteria said before the Sox’ 11-2 loss to the Diamondbacks in a Cactus League game. “We’ll see how that plays out. You guys will find out before I do.’’
After combining to hit .337 with 22 home runs, 28 doubles and 75 RBI between Class AA Birmingham and Class AAA Charlotte last season, Jimenez struggled this spring, batting .154 with a home run and attributing it to his timing being off. He was optioned to Charlotte last week, and the expectation was he would be called up in late April after clearing service-time issues.
That would no longer be a problem after the deal, which buys out Jimenez’s arbitration years and one year of free agency, is finalized. The Sox would have him under control through 2026, his age-30 season.
“The kid has come out and done everything we wanted him to do in the spring,” Renteria said. “He’s working to get his timing back in the minor leagues. He has impressed everyone in the organization from the minor leagues to us. I don’t know if there’s anything more I can say about him.’’
The Sox have done well in past years to sign players before they hit free agency to club-friendly deals, including Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and Tim Anderson. This one, for a player with no service time, is much rarer and holds more risk. Phillies infielder Scott Kingery signed a six-year, $24 million contract last year that included three team options maxing out at $42 million, and the Astros signed first baseman Jon Singleton to a five-year, $10 million contract in 2014.
Singleton played only 114 games in the majors. Kingery batted .226/.267/.338 in 147 games last season.
In any event, knowing that Jimenez can now start in left field next week and in their home opener against the Mariners on April 4 has given Sox fans something to buy tickets for and to feel good about again after the team offered an inferior deal to that of the Padres for prized free agent Manny Machado. The pushback from fans has been relentless.
That huge miss was a big blow to the Sox’ rebuild, as were continuing injury hits to other top prospects. Just this week, highly regarded pitching prospect Dane Dunning followed 2016 first-round pick Zack Burdi and No. 1 pitching prospect Michael Kopech as a Tommy John-surgery casualty.
All of them could be up and running by next year, when Jimenez, a much-needed star with a personality to match, will have a valuable first season under his belt.