Willie Harris sees ‘superstar’ potential in Eloy Jimenez
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Willie Harris knows first-hand what it’s like to win a championship in Chicago. As he gets an up-close look at the direction the rebuilding White Sox are headed, he sees groundwork being laid for it possibly happening again.
“The South Side of Chicago has a lot to be excited about in the next couple years, man — so be ready,’’ said Harris, who scored the game-winning run in the Sox’ Game 4 World Series clincher against the Astros in 2005. “There are a ton of young kids in the system who can really play, and some pitchers who can pitch. Guys who can really get after at.’’
One is Eloy Jimenez. In his first year as manager at the Sox’ advanced Class A team at Winston-Salem after serving as hitting coach at Advanced Rookie Great Falls in 2016, Harris has had a bird’s eye view of the 20-year-old outfielder and 22-year-old catcher Zack Collins, who were promoted to AA Birmingham Tuesday. And he likes what’s seen of Jimenez, the No. 5-ranked prospect in the game per Baseball America who came to the Sox with right-hander Dylan Cease (No. 83) and two other prospects in the Jose Quintana trade July 13, and of Collins, the Sox’ No. 10 overall pick in the 2016 draft.
While batting .302/.375/.570 in 71 games with 16 homers, 17 doubles, three triples, 30 walks and 58 RBI between the Cubs and Sox advanced Class A teams, Jimenez’ explosive bat played to rave reviews and left the Sox feeling pretty good about the trade. He capped off his time with the Dash by being named Carolina League Player of the Week.
“We had high marks in terms of makeup on Eloy but I think he has even surpassed those in the last few weeks,’’ general manager Rick Hahn said last week.
Here’s Harris Tuesday:
“The way he carries himself on and off the field, in the clubhouse, the way he interacts with his teammates — this guy is special. And I’m not just saying he’s [going to be] a mediocre major league baseball player. I’m talking superstar. I’m talking big time baseball player.’’
Jimenez, who played right field for the Dash, is far from a finished product. He needs to improve on things like positioning in the field and reads on the bases, Harris said, “but keep in mind he’s 20 years old.’’
“He has fun when he plays,’’ Harris said. “It might look like he hot dogs a little when he plays defense but that’s who he is, you don’t want to take that away from him.’’
But his bat looks polished. Against a pitcher who come out of the bullpen and threw 97 mph for a first-pitch called strike, Jimenez didn’t blink.
“The next pitch he throws 98 and it want about 440 feet,’’ Harris said. “It was unbelievable how he made the adjustment in just two pitches.
“He makes adjustments during his at-bats. He does everything you want a major league player to do things and he’s doing it at the age of 20.’’
Collins batted .223/.365/.443 with 17 homers, 18 doubles and 48 RBI while stepping up his game behind the plate for the Dash. He finished strong, hitting .343/.500/.686 in August.
“The average wasn’t where he wanted it to be, but if you watched the kid work and the way he carried himself you wouldn’t know he was hitting .225,’’ Harris said. “He takes walks, is a really good catch and throw guy behind the plate. I know there was talk about him possibly not being able to play catcher but this guy made some strides this year and can lead a pitching staff.
“He’s going to get a lot better.’’
NOTES: To replace traded right-hander Tyler Clippard on the 25-man roster, the Sox returned right-hander Dylan Covey (left oblique strain) from the disabled list Tuesday before their game against the Dodgers in Los Angeles. Covey (0-4, 8.12 over eight starts), a Rule 5 draft pick, has been on the DL since May 23.
*Right-hander Reynaldo Lopez will make his second start for the Sox when they open a four-game series Thursday in Texas against the Rangers.
*Jason Benetti and Aaron Rowand are handling the TV broadcast for the two-game series at Dodger Stadium. Rowand is the Sox’ baserunning and outfield coordinator.