After a dynamic 2019 campaign for the White Sox and their star players, it might be hard to remember what 2018 was like. That year, Lucas Giolito and Yoan Moncada were still struggling and there weren’t too many bright spots on the major league roster. So for the majority of the 2018 season, us Sox fans focused on the electric performances from Michael Kopech, Eloy Jimenez, and Dylan Cease in the minors. Since then, a lot has changed, especially the hype surrounding that trio of prospects.
No one has given up on any of the three, and I’m not trying to contend that. However, with the emergence of Moncada, Giolito, and Tim Anderson, there just hasn’t been as much attention to be centered on them. The fates of Dylan Cease and Michael Kopech are still in the air, although I detailed in September why I believe Cease will put up quality stats in 2020. In contrast, Eloy Jimenez deserves all of the hype. All of it. The same level of excitement and anticipation for him in 2018 should return now for his 2020 campaign. Why?
A dive into Jimenez’s 2019 numbers reveals that he had a much better season than most would believe, one that was heavily affected by injury and contained two stretches of ridiculously good hitting. Specifically, his incredible month of September doesn’t appear to be a fluke—which is bad news for major league teams not named the Chicago White Sox.
In that spectacular month, Eloy batted .340/.383/.710, which is good for an OPS of 1.093. Those numbers are well above his season averages, so it’s fair to ask if they aren’t repeatable. Let’s first take into consideration his BABIP, which was .385. That number is well above average, but it also makes sense when you factor in Jimenez’s contact profile. Eloy absolutely tore the cover off the ball in September. According to Fangraphs, his Soft-hit % was 8.1%, Medium 47.3%, and Hard 44.6%. Here’s what Fangraphs considers “excellent”, the top category out of seven: Soft 15%, Medium 45%, Hard 40%. There is no category to define how well Eloy was making contact in September, which is why his BABIP was hardly a fluke or a sign of luck.
If you need more evidence, look to Eloy’s month of June, in which he slashed a comparable .284/.340/.602, with slightly worse (but still amazing) contact numbers. That month his BABIP was a reasonable .321. September wasn’t just a one-time thing, but another indication that he’s capable of mashing the ball like he did in the farm system.
Breaking bats and breaking hearts. pic.twitter.com/eMA9Sahnma
— Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) June 19, 2019
What do June and September have in common? They are both a month removed from significant injuries: a three-week stint beginning in late April and a two-week ordeal in late July. As many south siders noticed, Eloy struggled in the immediate weeks after his injuries. Once those struggles subsided, Eloy balled out, and there’s no reason to believe he can’t do that in 2020 with good health.
Despite all this, Eloy isn’t perfect. But there are signs of hope for him to improve on his weaknesses. Everybody knows Eloy has a refined approach at the plate, as he hits the ball to right field and center field exceptionally well. In fact, his results on balls pulled were far worse than those hit to center or right. Considering only fair balls, his OPS on pulled balls was .838 compared to 1.398 to center and 1.115 to right. Unusual as it may be, Eloy couldn’t generate much hard contact pulling the ball. That is, until September he couldn’t. He turned things around massively, posting a 1.226 OPS on pulled balls in the final month, including some scorching dingers. The sample size of 31 PAs is small, but the difference is so great it’s evident that something clicked.
The American League Player of the Week doing American League Player of the Week things. pic.twitter.com/vfmNeIQliu
— Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) September 17, 2019
Lastly, it’s time to talk about the elephant in the room. Baseball requires left fielders to actually play defense in left field. Shocking, I know. Unfortunately, playing defense isn’t exactly Eloy’s strong suit. However, if he puts in the work, Eloy can become an average fielder, which is all he’ll need to ascend to the ranks of the elite. MLB’s Statcast ranks his sprint speed in the 70th percentile, which sounds absurd. Yet this 2013 prospect report noted Eloy’s “plus-speed” while most evaluations placed his fielding at an acceptable 45 mark (20-80, 50 is average).
The tools are there. With enough work, Eloy certainly has what it takes to become a competent fielder. I hope the organization and Jimenez himself take it upon themselves to actualize this possibility.
With luck, all the right circumstances are lining up for ‘Lamantha’ in 2020. He’ll be taking the field without any rookie jitters, coming off a fantastic end to 2019. He’ll be hitting in a lineup that will likely feature better protection. He may even just show up an improved fielder. Eloy Jimenez will be ready in 2020, and the league won’t be ready for him.
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