Apropos of little more than curiosity, let’s drill down into the pre-majors careers of Frank Thomas and Eloy Jiménez.
(Any ninnied handwringers out there who want to scold me for daring to comp these two, c’mon. You stopped to watch Eloy’s sparse spring training at-bats just like you did with Frank. Besides, the hell else we supposed to fill our time with in a 100-loss season?)
First a primer, for those less familiar with Frank Thomas’ career. He was the first round (No. 7 overall) draft choice of the White Sox out of Auburn University, where as highly-recruited tight end he missed being a football and baseball teammate of Bo Jackson by one season. Thomas had exploded on the scene as a recruit out of Columbus, Ga. and had a monster freshman season, was great but lost his power as a sophomore, and had his best season yet as a junior (19 homers and 83 RBIs in 64 games, a .403 average and 1.369 OPS).
Thomas’ bonus for signing with the White Sox was $175,000. He wouldn’t make a million dollars in a season until 1993, and wasn’t even the highest-paid White Sox player until 1995.
After signing, Thomas reported to the Gulf Coast League for rookie ball, where he played in 17 games and homered just once, but had a .919 OPS nonetheless. He finished out the season at High-A, with the Sarasota White Sox, playing 55 games, hitting four homers, and recording a nearly-mortal .785 OPS. In 1990, Thomas reported to Birmingham, devoured Double-A for two-thirds of a season, and hopped right up to the majors to finish 1990.
What we hope will be Jiménez’s final minors season started with an injury delay (chest), but we’ve been breathlessly following him through stints at Double-A Birmingham and now Triple-A Charlotte. He’s 59 games into it, so that “final” year is still in progress.
Frank vs. Eloy: Final Minors Season
|Frank Thomas (1990)||109||323||487||581||23.63||15.61||258||362|
|Eloy Jimenez (2018)||59||314||372||544||8.5||17||230||347|
Thomas’ 1990 was extraordinary. That he mauled Southern League pitching (18 HR and 71 RBI in 109 games, 1.068 OPS) wasn’t a jaw-dropper. But reporting to the White Sox at the start of August and putting up two months of outfield wall denting sure was. He actually hit seven points higher (.330) in the majors than at Double-A!
As a slugger, we see Jiménez matching up pretty well with Thomas.
As a hitter — specifically, batting eye — Thomas was far superior in the minors. While Jiménez is just 21 years old, the age Thomas was in his junior year at Auburn and rookie ball/High-A, it appears Thomas’ willingness to wait for his pitch is something he always carried with him. It’s unlikely that Jiménez will suddenly just double his walk rate, and that might keep him from the sort of super-elite, slump-proof career that Thomas enjoyed on the South Side. The Big Hurt may have taken a break from mauling baseballs, but a finicky nature at the dish meant Thomas rarely took too long between trips onto the bases.
Simply by being forced through Charlotte, Jiménez is going through an additional step Thomas never did. However, if (like Thomas) Jiménez is called up by August and never looks back, well, we can call that a tie.
Comparing the two careers, rather than just a final minors season, it’s still just the OBP and walk rate that stand out between the two players. It would be fair to include Thomas’ Auburn stats as a sort of “low minors,” but a) I’m too lazy to make all those calculations and b) the conclusions would remain intact, as Thomas the Tiger had a 19.62 walk rate and 10.64 K rate.
Frank vs. Eloy: Minors Career
|Frank Thomas (career)||192||304||445||502||19.53||14.71||198||339|
|Eloy Jimenez (career)||359||304||354||505||7.1||19.94||201||347|
We all relish seeing Eloy in a White Sox uniform and officially kicking off the fun phase of the rebuild. Arguably, while the White Sox were a surprise kickass club in 1990 and gave the Oakland A’s all they could handle for the AL West title, Thomas dropping out of the sky (or, Birmingham) in August was a signal that the power balance in the division was due for a change.
It’s easy to imagine the same happening this year, with Jiménez up for two months of play that adds a first 10 or so homers to his career total, kick-starts a surprise run to second or third place, and leads to countless new season tickets purchased over the winter.
Perhaps the “parallel Thomas” plan has been in the works all along, allowing the front office to calmly demur in the face of howling fans clamoring that their new slugging prince to be on the South Side, yesterday.
If Jiménez makes his debut on August 2 (Thomas’ debut, 28 years to the day), that’ll be enough of a Hahn wink for me.