Heading into the 9th inning of Tuesday night’s Midwest League All-Star Game, South Bend Cubs slugger Eloy Jimenez had done very little. Well, he had an RBI groundout. Yawn. His team was trailing 10-7 when he came to the plate with two men on and one out in the last frame. The 19-year-old (he won’t be 20 until late November!) Dominican went to the plate looking for a breaking pitch up in the zone, and that’s exactly what he got.
Jimenez sent a towering shot over the center field fence in Cedar Rapids to tie the game, pausing a bit as he did to behold the majesty of his shot. His team would later score again to capture a come-from-behind victory, a was named “Star of the Game.”
This is fast becoming standard operating procedure for the young man as he’s been right in the middle of several of his everyday team’s seven walk-off wins this season. 2016 has been a magical year for the boy wonder, who hit .341 with 8 homers and 45 RBI in the first half to lead the SB Cubs to the first half Eastern Division title. In a league where the average age is 22, the teenager has performed above expectations in only his third year of organized baseball.
Like Soler, Jimenez fits the right-field profile extremely well. His most impressive tool is his power potential, as he has plenty of bat speed and room to add strength to his 6-foot-4 frame. Jimenez is more advanced than most 17-year-olds at the plate, showing a precocious feel for pitch recognition and strike-zone discipline.
Though Jimenez is an above-average runner now, and he may begin his pro career in center field, he figures to lose a step once he fills out. That likely would dictate a move to right field, where his strong arm will fit nicely.
Jimenez was assigned to the Arizona Rookie League, where his initial performance was underwhelming in some aspects. In 42 games, he hit .227 with 3 HRs and 27 RBI. Heading into the season, his weakness was considered live gameplay (remember, very little experience in an organized setting). While he did not hit for average, he was able to drive in runs at a prodigious rate.
In 2015, Jimenez was assigned to short-season Eugene while his fellow signee, Gleyber Torres, was assigned to South Bend. Jimenez’s skills were just not there yet. He struggled to stay healthy with the Emeralds and ended up missing 17 games, though the improvement was evident as he hit .284 with 7 HRs and 33 RBI in 57 games. I was a little disappointed in Jimenez’s lack of power, but it was impossible to discount the jump in batting average in one year.
Coming into the 2016 season, MLB Pipeline had not changed his profile much. They only added the following line: “He’s adding strength to his big frame and exhibits impressive bat speed and leverage from the right side of the plate.” What they also forgot to include was his maturity. You could see early in April that when the moment arrived, Eloy wanted that spotlight, that pressure on him. He tended to thrive on it.”
I was extremely excited to see that he was going to be at South Bend. My thoughts were that he would hit around .280 with 10 home runs and maybe 35 driven in over the first half. And those projections represented what I felt would be peak performance. I didn’t think he would really start to take off until the second half when the weather warmed up, leading to a July that would kick off “The Summer of Eloy.”
What I like so much about what I have seen this 2016 version, is that “precocious feel for pitch recognition…” Pipeline mentioned. Watching him hit from the centerfield camera on MiLB.TV, you can tell that Jimenez is recognizing pitches as they leave the pitcher’s hand. He does not get fooled very often. Of course, just because he can tell what kind of pitch it is does not mean that he can hit it.
While there has been improvement, Jimenez does strike out a lot despite posting such a high batting average. The walk rate, however, is a different story. In April, he hit .284 with 6 walks and 25 K’s in 81 at-bats. In May, he hit .364 with 7 walks and 25 K’s in 110 at-bats. And in 67 at-bats in June, he’s hitting .373 with 11 K’s and 3 walks.
His strikeout rates by month are 30.8%/22.7%/16.4%, while his walk rates of 7%/6.3%/4.4% are trending in he opposite direction. The dramatic reduction in strikeouts shows an improved approach, but his walk rate should not be shrinking at the same time. I’m sure the Cubs would like to see Jimenez drawing more walks, though it’s hard to criticize much else.
Maybe you’d like to see the kid hitting for a bit more power, though that should come naturally as his body matures and he fills out that massive frame. His doubles output has increased from 6 to 8 to 10, the latter of which have come in just 67 at-bats, which I find amazing. His OPS stands at .922 for the year. Imagine what it would be if he got more walks
There is no rush to move Jimenez up a level this year, as it’s all about honing the approach that is going to allow him to pick his pitches. Let him play a while longer at South Bend. Let him hit and dominate, let him be a leader, and, most importantly, let him get more walks. I think his second half might be more amazing than the first, if that is possible. Based on his confidence right now, I think it is.