At this point, it doesn’t matter how hard Eloy Jimenez hits the ball. It doesn’t matter that he reminds Frank Thomas of Vladimir Guerrero. It doesn’t even matter that it might be an appropriate comparison.
The Chicago White Sox have already seen some incredible talent progress through their system during the short period of the current rebuild, and they’ll undoubtedly see plenty more come along over the next several years. However, none will ever be as sure of a slugger as Jimenez.
Yes, there’s always the possibility that a hitch in his swing is exposed or he comes completely off the rails. More likely, Jimenez’s career could be hampered by injuries before it even really begins — he missed some time already this year.
But the likelihood of any of that happening besides injury seems increasingly slim at every stop and just about every time he picks up the bat. The 21-year-old Dominican, who MLB.com ranks as the third-best prospect in baseball, is already a Major League-caliber hitter. No time in Triple-A is needed to solidify that fact.
Yet the White Sox seem inclined to send him there anyway. They’ll give him detailed feedback and data to support conclusions that he needs to make some nuanced tweaks when he’s there, and he’ll certainly do everything he can to meet their expectations of improvement.
But the only bit of projection left in his game comes on the other side of home plate. Will he play right field or left? And even those are simply matters of how much his speed and overall range are limited by the mass he adds and how his arm strength holds up over time.
As a hitter, the White Sox know they could plug him into the middle of their lineup tomorrow, and it’d be an upgrade over just about everybody but Jose Abreu (and even surpassing him as the most dangerous hitter in the lineup is only a matter of time). However, they’ll continue to ask him to focus on the minutiae because it serves their best interest, and you can expect largely meaningless explanations for why between now and whenever he’s promoted to Chicago simply to cover their own asses.
Saying you’re holding him back to avoid starting the clock on his Major League contract is grounds for a grievance — which itself is grounds for hostility they really don’t want to be troubled with considering how Jimenez factors into their long-term plans.
The White Sox have very firmly set their sights on 2020 as the time when their ability to contend begins in earnest. And if it takes an additional year to sort through the talent they’ve accumulated and find the best 25-man fit, having an extra season before Jimenez gets to arbitration (or has possibly even earned an early extension) is going to be valuable and help them make more informed decisions.
So don’t be too frustrated as they create reasons for him to remain in Birmingham and eventually Charlotte. Barring injury, you should see him in September for a call-up since he’s on the 40-man roster and then he should get nearly a full season in 2019 (though they may massage his time yet again with a late-April or mid-May promotion).
When he gets here, he’ll be a dangerous hitter who puts on displays of power we haven’t seen in quite some time. And while he’ll still have many of the little kinks in his game to work through that the White Sox like to make mention of now, you’ll be quick to realize that the extra time in the minors didn’t do him much better or worse.
It was merely procedural. Given how well planned out this rebuild has been so far, you simply have to give the White Sox the benefit of the doubt.
It can be hard. Hype is a demolition crew while reasoned thinking is the only wall remaining between you and that open-concept living area you’ve been dreaming of.
You know it’ll look a helluva lot prettier when that barrier is down, but Rick Hahn is simply making sure there’s nothing essential behind the drywall and that it isn’t load bearing. Once the details are worked out, you’ll have clean sightlines to the left field bleachers and the bombs Jimenez drops into them.