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Deep Dive: left field edition, part 2

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Eloy looks ready for the majors — especially once his glove ‘improves,’ some time by, uh, the middle of April, maybe?

MLB: Spring Training-Chicago White Sox at Seattle Mariners
On the Cusp: Eloy ranks third among all prospects, according to MLB Pipeline.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the White Sox organization. Each position will be a four-part series:

  1. Depth in the lower levels (Dominican through Kannapolis)
  2. Depth in the higher levels (Winston-Salem through Charlotte)
  3. Under the Radar-type detail on one of the White Sox players at that position
  4. Free-agent options at that position, plus sneak peeks into available players in the upcoming 2019 MLB Draft.

Now, let’s focus on the left field depth in the organization by providing small bits of information on players who primarily played the position for Winston-Salem, Birmingham and Charlotte.


Charlotte Knights

Eloy Jimenez
6´4´´
205 pounds
Bats: Right
Age: 22
Additional position: right field

The Chicago Cubs signed Eloy, a Santo Domingo, D.R., native, to a $2.8 million bonus on August 1, 2013. Jimenez worked his way through the Cubs organization, moving up the prospect charts as he went and hitting light-tower home runs in the process. His best year with the Cubs came in 2016 with their A-team in South Bend, when he slashed .329/.369/.532 with 40 doubles, three triples, eight stolen bases, 14 homers, 81 RBIs, 25 walks (5.39%) and 94 strikeouts (20.26%) in 432 at-bats.

In 2017, Jimenez was hovering around 10th place on the MLB Pipeline prospect list and hitting .271/.351/.490 for the Cubs’ A+ team in Myrtle Beach, when he was traded to the White Sox on July 13, along with Dylan Cease, Bryant Flete and Matt Rose for Jose Quintana. The trade didn’t affect Eloy one iota, as he slashed .348/.405/.635 with 16 doubles, one triple, one stolen base, 11 homers, 33 RBIs, 17 walks (8.72%) and 37 strikeouts (19.00%) in 178 combined at-bats with Winston-Salem and Birmingham.

Eloy’s 2018 season got off to a late start due to a pectoral injury suffered during spring training, and he also missed a couple weeks in July with a strain in his left abductor muscle. However, those injuries didn’t affect his play on the field. In 53 games for Birmingham totaling 205 at-bats, he slashed .317/.368/.556 while playing half of his games in one of the toughest places to hit in the minor leagues, Birmingham. Eloy hit 15 doubles, two triples, 10 homers, 18 walks (7.89%) and 39 strikeouts (17.11%) for the Barons, ultimately earning a promotion to Charlotte on July 21. In 211 at-bats for the Knights, Jimenez wasn’t fazed by AAA pitching: He slashed .355/.399/.597, with 13 doubles, one triple, 12 homers, 33 RBIs, 14 walks (6.14%) and 30 strikeouts (13.16%).

Jimenez currently ranks third among all prospects according to MLB Pipeline, and for good reason. Check out the back of his baseball card:

  1. He literally has light-tower power
  2. His career slash line of .311/.359/.519 is only getting better as he advances
  3. His advanced hitting approach finds him willing to hit the ball anywhere in the diamond (or out of it), often resulting in adjustments from pitch-to-pitch
  4. He’s extremely mature, especially for someone who won’t turn 22 until November 27.

Although Jiménez’s career strikeout is a solid 18.20%, he’s even made significant improvements in that department by cutting the whiffs down to just 15.3% this year. His walk rate is fairly low, but he has the plate discipline to avoid swinging at bad pitches when hurlers work around him; as a result, expect his walk rate to increase to better than 10% as he trusts the hitters behind him.

Jimenez does have a good-but-not-great arm, rating a 50 by many scouts. Actually, his throwing arm is fine; it’s a combination of a relatively slow release and reduction in accuracy that have dropped the rating. While he can play right field, he does seem best suited for left. He is considered a below-average on defense, as he’s gotten a bit slower as he’s gotten more muscular. That doesn’t mean he’s a total liability; he’s a sure-gloved defender and only made four errors last year. With Eloy’s work ethic and willingness to improve, he is likely to be a passable defender, and certainly not an embarrassment.

One caveat: if the remaining outfielders in the system continue to rake, it’s possible that Eloy may eventually have to move to first base in order to accommodate more athletic guys like Luis Robert, Luis Gonzalez, Blake Rutherford, Luis Basabe, Micker Adolfo, and others. Don’t expect that to happen immediately, however.

As for 2019, expect him to return to Charlotte as the starting left fielder until mid-April, when service time issues are settled. At that time, he should be a fixture in the middle of the White Sox lineup for many, many years to come.

Charlie Tilson
6´0´´
185 pounds
Bats: Left
Age: 26
Additional position: center field

Tilson, a native of Wilmette and prep star with New Trier H.S., placed a verbal commitment with the Fightin’ Illini prior to the 2011 season. However, in part due to his success in the Area Code games, where he stole seven bases in three games, the St. Louis Cardinals drafted him in the second round of that year’s MLB Draft.

His best season in the Cardinals organization may have been 2015, with AA Springfield. That year he slashed .295/.351/.388, with 20 doubles, nine triples, four homers, 32 RBIs, 46 stolen bases, 46 walks (7.74%) and 72 strikeouts (12.12%) in 539 at-bats. After another good season in 2016 with AAA Memphis, Tilson was traded to the White Sox on July 31 for southpaw reliever Zach Duke. Tilson promptly received a call-up to the White Sox two days later, pulling a third-inning single off Detroit Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez. However, just two innings later, Tilson tore his left hamstring trying to chase a fly ball and was out for the remainder of the year.

The 2017 season was not kind to Tilson. In a year he needed to establish himself, he was sidelined with myriad injuries. Finally recovered from his hamstring surgery, Tilson suffered a stress reaction in his right foot at the beginning of spring training, and was later sidelined as the result of a stress fracture in the navicular bone of his right ankle. This most important of seasons was a total loss for Tilson, as he wasn’t able to get on the field.

Strangely enough in 2018, a year with seemingly every significant prospect spent massive quantities of time on the DL, Tilson was a model of health. His results weren’t bad; they simply weren’t as impactful as he would’ve liked. For Charlotte, Tilson’s slash line was .244/.288/.289 in 270 at-bats with no homers, 25 RBIs, 10 stolen bases, 16 walks (5.48%) and 52 strikeouts (17.81%). Tilson’s numbers were a bit better during his seven-week stay with the White Sox from late-May to mid-July, when he hit .264/.331/.292 with just two extra-base hits, 11 RBIs, two stolen bases, 10 walks (8.33%) and 20 strikeouts (16.67%) in 106 at-bats.

Tilson committed just two combined errors in 2018. He has decent if unexceptional range in the outfield, and his arm is fringe at best. He profiles as a fourth outfielder, but with all the outfield talent in the upper levels of the White Sox system, it’s difficult to see what kind of future Tilson will have in the organization. For this year in Charlotte, he could be part of an outfield mix which includes any combination of Jimenez, Luis Basabe, Ryan Cordell, Joel Booker, Alex Call and Tito Polo. Don’t be surprised to see the White Sox make a minor trade at some point, which could give Tilson an opportunity for significant playing time elsewhere.


Birmingham Barons

Joel Booker
6´1´´
190 pounds
Bats: Right
Age: 25
Additional positions: center field and right field

After two years dominating Indian Hills C.C. (Centerville, Iowa), Booker transferred to the Iowa Hawkeyes for the 2015 and 2016 seasons. He struggled a bit during his junior season; however, Booker’s senior season was much better. In 235 at-bats that year, he slashed .370/.421/.532 with 19 doubles, two triples, five homers, 37 RBIs, 23-of-25 stolen bases, 16 walks (6.06%) and 29 strikeouts (10.98).

Despite those numbers, Booker fell to the White Sox in the 22nd round of the 2016 MLB Draft. For the AZL White Sox and Great Falls in 2016, Booker capped off a sensational season by slashing .312/.403/.404, with 16 doubles, one triple, two homers, 31 RBIs, 41-of-44 stolen bases, 13 HBP, 27 walks (8.94%) and 49 strikeouts (16.23%).

As expected for 2017, his numbers fell off a bit but were still solid. For the year combined with Kannapolis and Winston-Salem, he slashed .274/.329/.349 in 475 at-bats, with 17 doubles, two triples, five homers, 44 RBIs, 23-for-31 stolen bases, 27 walks (5.10%) and 107 strikeouts (20.23). Because he struggled with Winston-Salem that year, Booker returned to begin the 2018 season there, where he did much better. He hit .279/.360/.399, with 26 doubles, four triples, seven homers, 38 RBIs, 26 stolen bases, 44 walks (8.35%) and 119 strikeouts. (22.58%). He was one of the most exciting players in the White Sox organization, even stealing home to win a game for the Dash!

While Booker does need to limit his strikeouts and improve his stolen base efficiency (60.5% in 2018), he certainly started making a name for himself this year. Defensively, he played well in all three outfield positions. He committed five errors and had 12 assists, and appears best suited for left or center. Don’t be surprised to see Booker begin the 2019 season with Charlotte, although the possibility exists that he could return to Birmingham instead.

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Winston-Salem Dash

J.J. Muno
5´11´´
190 pounds
Bats: Left
Age: 25
Additional positions: All positions other than catcher and pitcher

If the surname of Muno rings a bell, it should. J.J.’s cousin, Danny, played for Charlotte in the latter half of the 2016 season, and is now playing for AAA Tacoma in the Seattle Mariners organization. Muno’s three seasons for the Cal-Santa Barbara Gauchos were good, but unexceptional. His best season was as a sophomore, when he slashed .294/.374/.450, with five homers, 31 RBIs, and 17 stolen bases. His final season, 2017, saw his numbers drop to .246/.333/.342, with three homers, 26 RBIs, and 14 stolen bases. As a result, Muno fell to the 27th round of last year’s MLB draft and received a modest $1,000 signing bonus.

Muno spent 2017 with the AZL White Sox and Great Falls, and slashed .294/.415/.422 with 10 doubles, two triples, no homers, 18 RBIs, six stolen bases, 12 walks (8.82%) and 17 strikeouts (12.50%).

In 2018 Muno played for Kannapolis, Winston-Salem and Birmingham, but got into just 38 combined games in 98 at-bats. He slashed just .224/.300.296 for the year, with the majority of the time spent with Winston-Salem. His value is the fact that he provides organizational depth in a variety of positions; despite playing a small amount of games, Muno played nearly everywhere on the diamond. He’s not a prospect when you consider his age and results; however, Muno’s versatility may keep him in a similar role with Winston-Salem or any other team in the organization that is shorthanded either due to injuries or promotions.


Summary

Clearly, Eloy is the cream of the crop left fielder in the White Sox organization, and is a prime Rookie of the Year candidate for 2019 once he receives his early call-up. Booker and Tilson could become contributors at some point in 2019, though their ceilings are fairly limited and appear to be best suited as reserve outfielders. The White Sox have a plethora of candidates who could move from center or right to fill a need in left field in case Jiménez is injured, or ends up moving to first base down the road.