The ink on Eloy Jimenez's contract is still drying, but the outfielder already celebrated with a big game in spring training.
Jimenez and Rick Hahn spoke at a press conference mere hours before Saturday's Cactus League game against the Dodgers took place. Then Jimenez did his thing with the bat in the game.
The 22-year-old opened with a walk then followed with a pair of singles later in the game. He saved his best for last with a home run in the eighth inning.
3-3 with a HR and BB after signing a BIG contract... it's a good day to be Eloy Jimenez. pic.twitter.com/jOumffOIt6— White Sox Talk (@NBCSWhiteSox) March 23, 2019
Jimenez had not been having a good spring training and was even sent down to minor league camp nearly two weeks ago. Saturday's action was his first game in big league camp since March 11.
Before Saturday he was hitting .154/.154/.346 in nine games. The 3-for-3 game moved Jimenez's spring numbers to a much more respectable .241/.267/.517. His walk on Saturday was his first in the Cactus League. He now has two home runs.
During Saturday's press conference, Hahn went out of his way to say they are not making any announcements about the Opening Day roster yet. It is still assumed the Jimenez will start with the White Sox, but Hahn said they would like to have face-to-face conversations with the other players involved when it comes to the 25-man roster decisions.
With that said, Jimenez did bat sixth on Saturday. That could be a glimpse of where he will bat on Opening Day with Yoan Moncada (who continued his hot spring with two doubles and a home run on Saturday), Tim Anderson, Jose Abreu, Yonder Alonso and Welington Castillo batting ahead of Jimenez in the lineup.
Plenty of eyes with remain on Jimenez for the rest of spring and in 2019. He delivered in his first game since signing his new contract.
The White Sox made a notable outfield cut Saturday, sending Nicky Delmonico to Triple-A Charlotte not long after Eloy Jimenez signed his new six-year deal.
Rick Hahn wouldn't 100-percent confirm during the press conference whether or not Jimenez would be on the team's Opening Day roster, but the new deal eliminates the service-time conversation surrounding Jimenez and allows him to make his major league debut when the regular season starts next week in Kansas City.
While not official, Eloy Jimenez will be on Opening Day roster.— Daryl Van Schouwen (@CST_soxvan) March 23, 2019
"That decision as to final 25-man roster influences a lot of people, not just (Eloy)," Hahn said. "But I know both of us are certainly looking forward to Opening Day and Eloy getting started in his White Sox career."
If Jimenez is going to end up on the Opening Day roster, the White Sox will need to make room for him. That could mean cutting another outfielder in addition to Delmonico, but not necessarily. More on that in a bit.
Delmonico might have had a tough time making the Opening Day roster even if Jimenez would've started the season in the minor leagues. The White Sox outfield is a crowded one after the offseason addition of veteran Jon Jay. The presence of Adam Engel, Daniel Palka and the versatile Leury Garcia made it difficult to envision a place for Delmonico, who had a disappointing, injury-filled season in 2018 after showing promise at the end of the 2017 campaign.
It seems as if, eventually, the White Sox could have to move another one of those aforementioned outfielders to make room for Jimenez, who figures to be the team's everyday left fielder in 2019. But that decision could be delayed until mid April thanks to a bunch of built-in off days at the start of the regular-season schedule.
Both Hahn and manager Rick Renteria have discussed the possibility of the White Sox using only four starting pitchers at the outset of the season. Thanks to those off days, those four starters can all pitch on regular rest until as late as April 17. So, theoretically, Ervin Santana, who figures to wind up as the team's fifth starter, wouldn't be needed on the major league roster until that finale of a home series against the Kansas City Royals in mid April. That's one less pitcher that needs to be on the roster and one more position player that can be on the roster.
The versatility of Garcia, who has torn the cover off the ball this spring, and infielder Jose Rondon, who has added a little bit of outfield to his repertoire this spring (and is out of options), means they're likely not going anywhere. But instead of having to potentially dispatch of fan favorite Palka before the season even begins, there are potentially two spots available for three players, those two and Engel. Palka brings power, while Engel brings defense. Both have their weaknesses, too, Palka seeming best suited for a DH role that has been given to the combination of Jose Abreu and Yonder Alonso, and Engel the owner of a career .207/.260/.314 slash line.
It's important to note in all of this, too, that Renteria has said that Jay might not be an everyday player. Jay's versatility in the outfield also means he might be playing at one set position all season. So for those arguing that the White Sox could have an everyday outfield of Jimenez, Jay and Palka for the next six months, it might not be so simple. And if Jimenez and Palka are in the corners, that makes Engel's glove all the more valuable.
Jimenez returned to the White Sox lineup for Saturday's Cactus League game, perhaps another sign that he could return to the major league roster after being optioned to Charlotte prior to the announcement of the new contract.
Whether his making the roster would force off another outfielder remains to be seen.
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