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MLB: ALDS-Houston Astros at Chicago White Sox
Eloy Jiménez suffered through an injury-riddled 2021. The Big Baby is hoping to make his opponents cry in 2022.
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Eloy Jiménez: His past, present and future with the White Sox

Not yet 25, the Big Baby needs to stay healthy to be a cornerstone of the White Sox offense.

“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the Chicago White Sox organization. Each position is broken into a five-part series:

  1. Depth in the rookie levels (Dominican and Arizona Leagues)
  2. Depth in A-ball (Kannapolis and Winston-Salem)
  3. Depth in the higher levels (Birmingham and Charlotte)
  4. Under the Radar-type detail on one of a White Sox player
  5. Free agent options

Now, let’s do a deep a Deep Dive on Eloy Jiménez, the starting left fielder for the White Sox.

How did he get here?

Jiménez was quite the heralded young player, as he was considered the top international prospect in 2013 by MLB Pipeline. They said of Jiménez at the time, “Considered the crown jewel of the Class of 2013, Jiménez has one of the best baseball bodies available this year and is considered to be the total package. The teenager has impressed scouts with his intelligence, plus-speed, and gap-to-gap power that is expected to improve as he grows into his body.” He ultimately received a $2.8 million signing bonus from the Cubs that year. He struggled a bit in his first taste of baseball with the DSL Cubs in 2014, as he slashed just .227/.268/.367 with just three homers in 50 games.

The 2015 season saw much better results for Jiménez at Eugene (short-season league) as he slashed .284/.328/.418 with seven homers in 57 games. However, he really began turning it on in A-ball with South Bend in 2016, as he slashed .329/.369/.532 in 112 games with 40 doubles, three triples, 14 homers, 81 RBIs, eight stolen bases, 25 walks and 94 strikeouts. After getting off to a bit of a slow start with High-A Myrtle Beach in 2017, Jiménez picked it up a notch in June and July, as his slash line improved to .271/.351/.490 with six doubles, eight homers and 32 RBIs over 42 games. Then, on July 13 of that year, he was traded along with fellow top prospect Dylan Cease, Bryant Flete and Matt Rose for White Sox southpaw José Quintana. After the trade, Jiménez combined to slash a mercurial .348/.405/.635 in 47 games with Winston-Salem and Birmingham with 16 doubles, one triple, 11 homers, 33 RBIs, 17 walks and 37 strikeouts.

Jiménez started the 2018 season with Birmingham, and promptly destroyed Double-A pitching by slashing .317/.368/.556 in 53 games with 15 doubles, two triples, 10 homers, 42 RBIs, 18 walks and 39 strikeouts. After earning a promotion to Charlotte on June 21, he then massacred Triple-A pitching by slashing .355/.399/.597 in 55 games with 13 doubles, one triple, 12 homers, 33 RBIs, 14 walks and 30 strikeouts. Combined with both Birmingham and Charlotte, Jiménez slashed an impressive .337/.384/.577 in 108 games with 28 doubles, three triples, 22 homers, 75 RBIs, 32 walks (7.0%) and 69 strikeouts (15.1%).

Prior to beginning the 2019 season, Jiménez received a six-year, $43 million contract through 2024 with team options through 2026. For all intents and purposes, the “Big Baby” enjoyed an outstanding rookie season. In 122 games spanning 468 at-bats, he slashed .267/.315/.513 with 18 doubles, two triples, 31 homers, 79 RBIs, 30 walks (6.0%) and 144 strikeouts (28.6%). He finished fourth in the AL Rookie of the Year voting, and based upon his HR/G ratio, he easily could have finished the season with more 40 home runs if he hadn’t missed 40 games due to injuries. He posted a respectable 1.4 bWAR and 1.9 fWAR, which would’ve been much higher if not for his defensive difficulties.

In what was close to a full season by 2020 pandemic standards, Jiménez slashed .296/.332/.559 in 55 games with 14 doubles, 14 homers, 41 RBIs, 12 walks (5.3%) and 56 strikeouts (24.8%) on his way to a 139 wRC+ season and 1.4 bWAR. Prorated to a regular season, provided he would have been healthy, he would have set career highs across the board.

With the White Sox in 2021

Late in spring training this year, Jiménez suffered a torn pectoral muscle in an ill-fated attempt at making a catch over the wall in left field and missed nearly four months of action. After injury rehab stints with Winston-Salem and Charlotte, Jiménez returned from the injured list on July 26. In 55 games spanning 213 at-bats (eerily, the same numbers as 2020), he slashed .249/.303/.437 with 10 doubles, 10 homers, 37 RBIs, 16 walks (6.9%) and 57 strikeouts (24.7%). He posted a bWAR of 0.7 and wRC+ of 101, both OK based upon the number of games he played but still far below his capabilities. Certainly, Jiménez wasn’t aided by an uncharacteristically-low .293 BABIP. This was perhaps fueled by a 48.4% ground ball rate, hard-hit rate of just 45.8%, and a velocity rate decrease to 90.5

Surprisingly, despite the fact that Guaranteed Rate Field is a true hitter’s ballpark, Jiménez fared far better on the road (.272/.320/.526 with eight homers) than he did at home (.222/.284/.333 with two homers). This is a three-year trend which may indicate he’s trying to hit 500-foot bombs for the home fans instead of letting the game come to him. Day games saw Eloy at his best this year, as he slashed .290/.319/.522 under the sun; under the lights, he slashed a more pedestrian .229/.296/.396. He got off to a terrific start upon his return from the injured list, as he slashed .287/.328/.537 in August. However, once the calendar turned to September, Jiménez hit just .212 with a slugging percentage of just .319. Typically for him throughout his career, he fared far better against righties (.275/.320/.475) than southpaws (.170/.254/.321).

As with most hitters, Jiménez fared far better when ahead in the count. Actually, this is a bit of an understatement, as Jiménez slashed .283/.449/.453 when ahead in the count as opposed to .229/.251/.358 when behind. While the MLB average swing rate on the first pitch is 29.2%, Jiménez far exceeded that, at 44.2%. Thus, pitchers were more likely to give him something low and off the plate, compelling him to either hit weak grounders or fall behind in the count. It perhaps works both ways, in that Eloy may try to avoid falling behind so he takes a swing at any first pitch that looks mildly-hittable. Regardless, laying off the first pitch more often may eventually lead to getting a pitch that mildly could truly drive.

Jiménez loves fastballs so much, he slugged .293/.363/.509 against them. However, he didn’t like breaking pitches nearly as much, hitting just .219/.289/.384. However, he really abhorred off-speed pitches, as he embarrassingly hit just .050/.075/.050. Yes, that’s right — .050/.075/.050. This has to be a focus for him in 2022 — recognize off-speed pitches if possible and lay off if not to his liking. Obviously pitchers are taking advantage of Jiménez’s aggressiveness at the plate. If he can obviously lay off these offerings, it forces hurlers to reluctantly give him something more to his liking.

Of course, discussions regarding Jiménez in 2021 are incomplete unless we also discuss his defense. Baseball-Reference gave him a -0.2 defensive WAR, which is actually a career best. He made just one error this year, and confidence seems to be growing that he could at least be a passable defender going forward. Few people work harder on defense, as he is highly motivated to remain on the field and avoid being the DH. Of course, it helps that arguably the best center fielder on the planet is playing to his left. Jiménez’s sprint speed is among the top 61 percentile per Baseball Savant. The biggest issues Jiménez faces defensively, however, is his inability to get a good jump. That said, it could be a result of a lack of confidence; however, Jiménez’s jumps have improved with each year. To his credit, his jump rate increased significantly from 2020. The most important thing for Jiménez defensively is simply to avoid taking any unnecessary risks on the diamond, which could lead to injury.

With his offensive woes this year and his defense being a weakness of his overall game, as well as his rough start to the year and two injuries that caused him to miss 40 games, Jiménez posted just a 0.7 bWAR (which translates to a pedestrian 1.9 over 162 games). Offensively, Jiménez needs to put himself in more hitter-friendly counts by taking the first pitch if not to his liking. If he can do that, and avoid at flailing at pitcher’s pitches, the sky’s the limit for the young man provided he can stay healthy. While Jiménez’s overall defensive numbers last year were not ideal, his play in left field was at least passable. He’ll still only be 25 when the new season begins, so with his work ethic and dedication, there is no reason to believe he can’t continue to be an adequate defender going forward. If he does these things, his overall WAR numbers should skyrocket. Considering that each WAR point is worth approximately $7.7 million per FanGraphs on the free agent market, and Jiménez earned just $3.5 million in 2021, he provided the White Sox with a positive value of nearly $1.89 million.

What does the future have in store?

Because of the extension Jiménez signed prior to the 2019 season, his salary gradually climbs up to $13.83 million by 2024. The White Sox have club options on him for the next two years after that, so Jiménez should be a fixture in the White Sox lineup for the next seven years. Jiménez’s infectious personality has already made him one of the faces of the franchise. He’s worked hard on his English, and he’s taking that same effort in making himself a more complete player. With the likes of Luis Robert, Yoán Moncada, Tim Anderson, and Andrew Vaughn, he will be part of a young offensive nucleus that should continue to steer the White Sox toward perennial pennant contention. No doubt, with more experience and adjustments, Jiménez will also refine his offensive game by coaxing more walks (at the least, more favorable counts) and limit his strikeouts.

With the re-signing of José Abreu for three years, and with Vaughn and Gavin Sheets in the fold on the active roster, the likelihood of Jiménez moving to a full-time DH role likely will be placed on hold. Thus, without that safety net, it seems that Jiménez will remain in the outfield for at least the next couple of years. At his young age, Jiménez should continue to improve with experience, confidence and solid coaching.

If Jiménez again gets hurt, the White Sox have several alternatives. Vaughn, who filled in for much of Jimenez’s injured list stay this year, could be the first to replace him. Adam Engel is also available and is a better defensive player, but he’s also suffered from some long-lasting injuries. Other guys who could help in a pinch could include Sheets and Danny Mendick, Even with those possibilities, the best-case scenario is that Jiménez shows what he can do for a full season. Of course, Leury García and Billy Hamilton could serve as options for 2022 provided either re-signs with the team as a free agent. Other free agent options, either as a left field reserve or perhaps even as an option for right field, will be included in the next Deep Dive.

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