GLENDALE, Ariz. — He promised he’d show up for White Sox spring training with a surprise this winter, and Eloy Jimenez delivered, showing up “25-30 pounds” lighter.
“How do I look?” Jimenez, wearing a T-shirt and extending his open hands to his sides, said Wednesday.
That much weight is a hefty mass for a 6-4 slugger, but there seems no reason to believe Jimenez will have less thump in his middle-of-the-order bat should he stay healthy.
“No, he’s a big guy,” White Sox first-year hitting coach Jose Castro said. “He looks really good. That’s not going to affect how hard he hits a ball or how far he hits a ball. The big thing is playing the most games you possibly can. If he can put in 150 games, he’s got 30, 40 bombs in his offense.”
“He’s in extremely good shape,” manager Pedro Grifol said. “He’s strong. His work capacity is high. He’s got high energy; he’s enthusiastic. Eloy is one of the best hitters in baseball. He’s a tough out; he’s tough to game-plan against. He committed himself this offseason to being great, and he’s shown it thus far.”
Being fit and playing more games is what the Sox really need from Jimenez, and he knows it. He has played in 122, 55 (in the abbreviated 60-game season), 55 and 64 games in his four seasons. All that power is meaningless on the injured list or in the training room.
The motivation to lose weight stems from Jimenez’s disdain for being a designated hitter.
“Everybody knows I don’t like to DH,” he said.
While it’s certain that will be his primary role this season after appearing in 50 games at DH in 2022, Jimenez is not giving in to accepting the role, so he gave up red meat and rice and ate more chicken and fish during the offseason. He says he’s more agile in the outfield.
“I’m quicker, I can run faster and I feel good,” Jimenez said.
He wants to play as much outfield as he can, wherever opportunities might present themselves behind 2021 Gold Glove left fielder Andrew Benintendi and prospect Oscar Colas in right. It seems only a very bad spring would knock Colas off that spot.
“I love it,” Grifol said of Jimenez’s determination to show he’s not a one-dimensional talent despite the eye test and metrics data suggesting otherwise. “Why would you not commit yourself and compete for a job in the outfield? He’s a mainstay in our lineup, of course. I would do the same thing if I was in his shoes. I want him to go out there and stay hungry and compete for that right-field job.”
Asked if he would embrace being a DH knowing that would be best for the team, Jimenez said, “I’m really working for playing the outfield. And if I feel that I’m not good at it — that I don’t feel right now — it is what it is. Right now I feel like I can play. That’s why I worked. That’s why I lost some weight.”
If being more agile — he tore his hamstring running out a ground ball last May — helps Jimenez stay on the field, that will be the biggest benefit. The Sox are littered with top players who were hurt too often last season and don’t have enough depth to withstand a similar beating.
“I feel really good,” Jimenez said. “I feel excited. I feel good so far.”
May “so far” extend far into the season.
“I know I’m good, so if I’m healthy, that’s my biggest thing,” Jimenez said. “If I’m healthy, I know I can do anything.”