If you’re reading this, you already know the score: White Sox uberprospect Eloy Jimenez has hit .337/.386/.601 combined over Double-A and Triple-A this season. Since being promoted to Charlotte, all he’s done over 27 games is hit .376/.423/.693 while striking out a mere four more times than he’s walked in a league where he’s 5.6 years younger than the average player. His worst OPS at any level since joining the White Sox organization was the .925 he put up for Birmingham this year. Everywhere he’s been sent he has systematically demolished whatever pitching he has seen. The minor leagues offer him no more challenge. It’s obvious to everyone watching.
Well, let me rephrase that. It’s obvious to everyone watching who is not more concerned with the financial aspects of baseball than actually, you know, enjoying baseball. Somewhere along the way, people stopped picturing themselves as the player and started slotting themselves into the role of the GM. And while it’s fun to rosterbate and come up with plans (I’m just as guilty as anyone of doing this), it’s kind of hard to forget just how much losing absolutely sucks. Tanking is not a guarantee of future success. Grasping at cost-controlled years as if they’re the ultimate treasure only really matters if you use those savings to supplement the other holes in your roster. Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and Adam Eaton’s insanely team-friendly contracts didn’t amount to a hill of beans when it came to the White Sox building a contending window because the team couldn’t appropriately build around them.
Stockpiling as many prospects as you can at once to guard against failure is a good plan, but eventually you need to start actually promoting them or you’re just creating organizational logjams that result in further hindered development and then stacked salary issues later down the road themselves. There is not a single baseball team that can’t actually afford to pay for free agents. Yes, we all know it’s not the most efficient way to build a team. But you don’t win a trophy for being efficient.
At this point, it is difficult to articulate a reason Eloy Jimenez is still in the minors for baseball reasons. Perhaps the front office has legitimate developmental concerns for him, but they are not apparent from the outside, and the team declined its most recent opportunity to state them. For a team with less than $10MM worth of guaranteed contracts next season, it is difficult to stomach the appearance that Eloy hitting .400 with power against overmatched competition is worth it to save some money, particularly when the major league product is in real danger of falling behind historically bad Orioles and Royals teams AFTER they sold off their better players. Unfortunately, the team hasn’t given us any other explanation. To their credit, they have denied he’s down for service time reasons, although if they said it was for service time reasons they’d be basically admitting to acting in bad faith. Kenny Williams also has mentioned Jimenez’ defense as an area he could improve. That’s certainly his weakest area, although it’s hard to imagine his defense would cost them on the field in a season like 2018 in the majors, nor is it clear what he’d learn in Triple-A with the glove rather than with the major league coaching staff. After all this is a team that’s run Daniel Palka in the outfield quite a bit.
I decided to look up how the last three prominent bat-first players the White Sox developed hit in the minors before ultimately being called up to see if they managed to check off those mysterious boxes we’ve all been hearing so much about. Frank Thomas hit .323/.487/.581 over 109 games for Birmingham in 1990 before the Sox did the right thing and let him finish the rest of the year in the majors. He put up an OPS+ of 177 over the next two months before going on to be the best hitter in the AL for the next half decade. Magglio Ordoñez only needed to hit .329/.364/.476 for Charlotte as a 23 year old to prove he was ready in 1997. After a year of league average hitting in 1998, he adjusted and became a legitimate perennial MVP candidate. Carlos Lee wasn’t given a cup of coffee before establishing himself in the majors. After proving himself for an entire season in Birmingham (.302/.350/.485) in 1998, he started 1999 in Charlotte. After a mere 25 games of making International League pitching look weak (.351/.396/.532), the Sox bit the bullet and called him up. Lee developed into a professional hitter in the majors and that was that.
One explanation is that the White Sox are trying to handle this the way the Cubs did Kris Bryant. Bryant absolutely dominated AA and AAA in 2014 (.355/.458/.702 and .295/.418/.619 respectively) but for monetary reasons, received no call-up despite clearly having nothing left to prove in the minors. They even held him back a little longer in 2015 just to game service time a little bit more in one of the most blatant examples of this frustrating practice with the excuse that he needed to work on his defense. And for what? One more year of team control before he hits free agency at the low, low cost of what will probably be around $20-25MM in arbitration and potential hard feelings from the player towards the franchise for a player. Well at least we won’t have to worry about anything like that with Eloy.
Jiménez: “I’m working to be [in Chicago] this year but if the front office or somebody else doesn’t think that I should be there, that is their decision. I’m going to be ready for when the opportunity arrives.”
— James Fegan (@JRFegan) August 2, 2018
Lead Photo Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports