Eloy Jimenez

The biggest pieces of the White Sox rebuild are on absolute fire in September, great news for 2020

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USA TODAY

The biggest pieces of the White Sox rebuild are on absolute fire in September, great news for 2020

“The 2020 season, it starts in September.”

Jose Abreu said that before August was even over, looking toward the final month of yet another losing season, yet another season without a playoff appearance on the South Side. Of course, everyone involved with this organization is hoping that changes in 2020, and with his sights on that campaign, Abreu talked about using the last month of this one to get ready for next year.

Well, if this month is really the first month of what’s next, the guys who figure to play the biggest roles on that 2020 team — in this rebuild, in general — are off to a heck of a start.

Friday night, it was the quartet of Abreu, Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada and Eloy Jimenez powering a high-scoring win over the Seattle Mariners. The four combined to go 8-for-18 with two home runs, two doubles, a triple, seven RBIs and six runs scored.

It was a nice microcosm of what’s been happening all month.

In the dozen games the White Sox have played in September, Abreu, Anderson, Moncada and Jimenez have combined for a .363 batting average, a .431 on-base percentage, a .687 slugging percentage, 13 home runs, 18 doubles, a triple, 42 RBIs and 40 runs scored. They’ve accounted for more than 58 percent of the runs the team has scored and more than 61 percent of the runs the team has driven in.

Considering Anderson, Moncada and Jimenez are three cornerstones of Rick Hahn’s rebuilding effort and the elder statesman Abreu, with his constant declarations of his desire to remain with the team, seems a safe bet to be back in black for 2020, this is the core of this lineup moving forward playing at an extremely high level.

It’s exactly what the White Sox and their fans want to see.

Anderson is going to be dominating the headlines the rest of the way as he chases a batting title. He woke up Saturday with the best batting average in baseball, a .334 mark for the 2019 season. In September alone, he’s hitting .400.

Moncada has steadily had the best all-around offensive season of anyone on the team, quite the transformation from a year ago, when he struck out 217 times in a disappointing first full campaign as a major leaguer. In September, he’s hitting even better than Anderson, with a .435 batting average to go along with an insane .500 on-base percentage.

Jimenez has had an up-and-down rookie season, but he’s closing in on 30 home runs after smashing No. 27 on Friday night. He’s definitely in the midst of one of his better stretches right now and owns a .694 slugging percentage with five homers in September.

Abreu has been criticized by certain segments of the fan base for the noticeable dip in his on-base percentage this season. Thanks to a hot finish, it is higher than last year’s at the moment, but if the season ended today, it would be lower than the figures he posted during his first four seasons in the big leagues. But what those critics aren’t focusing on is one of the most productive seasons of Abreu’s career. He also homered Friday and is up to 33 bombs on the season, three off the career high he set as a rookie in 2014. And he’s blasted past his career high in RBIs from that same season, up to 116, which leads the American League. He's got five September homers and a .784 slugging percentage on the month.

In a season judged from the outset based on the development and performance of the team’s core players rather than its win-loss record, that’s all spectacular news for the organization moving forward into 2020. Combine all that with the strides made by Lucas Giolito and James McCann, the arrival of Dylan Cease, the expected return of Michael Kopech, the expected arrivals of Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal, plus what’s expected to be an active offseason, and this team is shaping up to have a very promising outlook for 2020.

“I’m expecting that this is it,” manager Rick Renteria said after Thursday’s game, asked if he believed the White Sox string of sub-.500 seasons would end next year. “We are trying to win. I think we talk about it, we are going through it. I know there’s still refining to do, but I’ll be honest with you. We are finishing this season, we are talking about coming into next season ready to battle, period, exclamation point. That’s what we are looking to do.”

If these four guys keep swinging the bats like this straight on into next March, that would go a long way toward proving their manager right.

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The Eloy and Yo-Yo Show: Airing for the next decade on the South Side

The Eloy and Yo-Yo Show: Airing for the next decade on the South Side

In the first inning, Eloy Jimenez flexed his oppo power with a grand slam, the first of his career, into the visiting bullpen. In the seventh, Yoan Moncada blasted a ball into Thome Territory, a two-run shot that challenged some of Jimenez’s distances this season.

Get used to it.

The Eloy and Yo-Yo Show will be airing for the next decade on the South Side of Chicago.

“I hear that was the first game Moncada and me hit a home run in the same game,” Jimenez said, his typical beaming smile on display after their long balls launched the White Sox to a win over the visiting Royals. “That is really good.

“That is the first for many to come.”

Indeed it was the first game in which both young members of the White Sox core homered in the same game, a slugger giving reporters a stat for a change.

And it’s exactly what the White Sox and their fans want to see. As another sub-.500 finish approaches, another October sitting on the couch watching rather than playing postseason baseball, the White Sox will hang their hats on the progress of their star youngsters. That progress has been easy to notice, with Moncada going from 217 strikeouts in 2018 to the team’s best hitter, Lucas Giolito going from the worst pitching numbers in baseball to an American League All Star and Tim Anderson going from a .240 hitter to the AL’s batting leader with just a couple weeks remaining in the campaign.

Jimenez is certainly part of that group, even if his rookie season has seen as many growing pains — and physical pains that have sent him to the injured list — as it has eye-popping moments like Tuesday’s. But those moments have been in ample supply. Every time he’s scorched a ball out into the foliage on the batter’s eye in center field, White Sox fans got a glimpse of the future.

Tuesday night, it was Moncada sending a ball that way. And while his merely landed near the top of the greenery rather than bouncing on the stairs of the Fan Deck, like Jimenez’s most memorable homer of the year did, it was still enough to have White Sox fans seeing stars — and to make Jimenez go “Wow!” in the dugout.

“I think he got more than me,” Jimenez said before being informed that he’s still got the longest bomb between the two this season. “Yeah? Well, I don’t know. He’s still swinging hard and put that one almost in the scoreboard.”

This has been the vision all along for Rick Hahn’s front office, Moncada and Jimenez driving the ball into the night sky and driving in runs in a power-packed win. Jose Abreu added a double Tuesday night, and though Anderson couldn’t pick up a hit to raise that league-leading average, he walked in the first inning and scored on Jimenez’s grand slam. James McCann added a double, too, and Zack Collins flashed his on-base skills with a first-inning walk.

Was it all the pieces finally coming together? It’s hard to say that with this team 16 games below .500. But the pieces are starting to fall into place. Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal won’t be too long in joining this core. Coincidentally, yet fittingly, power-hitting prospect Andrew Vaughn was on hand for Tuesday night’s Home Run Derby, all 10 runs scoring on via the long ball.

Who knows whether Vaughn will reach the majors in time to be a member of the first contending White Sox team in years. But the plan is for him to be a part of this lineup one day, too. When he gets here, The Eloy and Yo-Yo Show is still scheduled to be must-see TV.

“It's nice that they're going to be in the lineup, hopefully, for the next 10 years,” White Sox bench coach Joe McEwing said.

Fans are getting the previews now.

“It’s going to be fun,” Jimenez said. “Let’s wait for that.”

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Eloy Jimenez came one jaw-dropping Oscar Mercado catch from delivering yet another big moment

Eloy Jimenez came one jaw-dropping Oscar Mercado catch from delivering yet another big moment

It's been an easy comparison to make, Eloy Jimenez's rookie season with Yoan Moncada's first full season in the big leagues just last year.

And it's not necessarily a bad one, two young stars in the making who took a full season to learn the league and have taken time to live up to the unending hype that accompanied their arrivals in the majors.

But while Moncada's first full big league campaign was an inarguable disappointment — one of the highest single-season strikeout totals in baseball history only the most glaring of the things that didn't go as planned — Jimenez's first full big league season has featured plenty of flashes of his promising future.

Those flashes have been coming more and more often of late.

One of the brightest flashes came Wednesday night — or rather, it almost did. A night after playing hero with a game-winning, eighth-inning home run, Jimenez nearly did it again. Up with the bases loaded and just one out in a two-run game the White Sox trailed by six runs a little more than an inning earlier, he smoked a ball to center field. It looked like a surefire game-tying double, at least.

But then Oscar Mercado came up with one of the best catches you'll ever see, stealing away Jimenez's cape and donning it for himself in miraculous fashion.

Not much Jimenez could have done better there.

Mercado stole away a chance for Jimenez to improve his red-hot numbers of late, stole away a chance at the kind of memorable moment the rookie left fielder has delivered on multiple occasions this season. This comeback-capper could have joined the one from Tuesday, not to mention other rookie-year highlights like the game-winning, broken-bat homer that bested the Crosstown-rival Cubs in his first game against his former organization or the pair of two-homer games he had against the vaunted New York Yankees.

The point is, though, that those moments exist, and they've made what might be looked at as a disappointing season from certain angles far more palatable, far more hopeful for the future.

Jimenez came into Wednesday night's contest in Cleveland with a .252/.300/.475 slash line that doesn't do much to back up the preseason hype he had as one of the highest rated prospects in the game. Plenty, myself included, got a bit carried away with some of those preseason prognostications, and he'll have to go on quite the tear to reach 36 home runs.

But while pains both growing and physical have led to stretches of major struggles, at times, for the 22 year old, things are going very well at the dish as the summer winds down. Since the beginning of August, Jimenez is batting .298, and he's been smoking the ball particularly well of late, with multi-hit performances in six of his last seven games. He's got a .467 batting average and four extra-base hits in his last seven games.

And all that good news makes Jimenez's rookie year stand in noticeable contrast to Moncada's 2018 season. He's given plenty of examples of what the future holds.

Jimenez has 24 home runs this season, just five back of Jose Abreu's team-high 29, and many of them have stuck in the memories of those who saw them leave the yard. Jimenez's blasts are typically titanic and often sent out to dead center, which makes them look all the longer when they're disturbing the foliage on the batter's eye at Guaranteed Rate Field.

The list of the things Jimenez has done to get fans super excited for both his present and future in 2019 is far more populated than the same list Moncada finished the 2018 season with.

Moncada, to his well deserved credit, worked hard in the offseason to turn himself into the team's best hitter. He had a .288/.349/.519 slash line coming into Wednesday's contest. From a much maligned 217 strikeouts to offensive numbers that many of his teammates called All-Star worthy ahead of the Midsummer Classic, Moncada just needed one offseason to restore hope in the hype he had when he was the No. 1 prospect in baseball and projected as one of the cornerstones of the White Sox rebuild.

Jimenez, thanks to all these flashes of brilliance, won't carry the same level of disappointment into this offseason. But if he attacks the winter in a similar fashion to the way Moncada did a year ago, perhaps a similar improvement is possible.

Seventy four times out of 100 — that's Baseball Savant's number, though judging by the jaw-dropping-ness of Mercado's catch, it seems like it should be much higher — the ball that Jimenez smacked in the ninth inning Wednesday adds yet another big moment to Jimenez's rookie-year resume. If these flashes of brilliance from Jimenez end up simply as consistent brilliance, he'll get the chances to deliver those 74 big moments.

Now where have I seen that number before?

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