Eloy Jimenez’s hot stretch dates a little further back than just the beginning of the just completed six-game homestand. You’ll remember the ball he hit to the other side of I-70 in Kansas City.
But playing before big crowds of White Sox faithful, Jimenez announced his arrival as the kind of slugger everyone’s been waiting to see.
Until recently, the biggest positive surrounding Jimenez was simply that he was a big leaguer. He wasn’t yet a terribly effective big leaguer, he spent a long time on the injured list and was routinely making onlookers worry with his play in left field.
But that’s not the case anymore. Jimenez blasted his first homer on the South Side in Tuesday’s game against the Washington Nationals, an absolute bomb that touched down on the fan deck. Three nights later, he hit a pair of three-run homers to power a win over the New York Yankees. All in all, he went 7-for-21 on the homestand, with three homers, a double, eight RBIs, six runs scored and three walks.
“I was very impatient,” Jimenez said Saturday of what was going wrong earlier in the season. “Now, I'm more patient at the plate and I see the ball better. And I get more pitches to hit.
“This is the guy who I've always been. Right now, I feel that it's there. I'm seeing the ball well, hitting the ball really on the barrel right now. I'm taking more walks than the first two weeks. I feel really good.”
Indeed, this is the guy that generated all that hype, the guy that had fans demanding he be called up throughout the 2018 season. This is the guy that’s projected to spend the next decade in the middle of the White Sox lineup.
This is the guy White Sox fans have been waiting for since he was acquired in that 2017 trade with the Cubs.
“I know from the first moment we saw him in camp a few years ago, you could see that there was obviously a talent within this young man,” manager Rick Renteria said before Sunday’s game. “What I do see is the experience he's gaining at the major league level. He's starting to make adjustments in the box.
“The other things I see, though, is the work he's put in in the outfield. He's really starting to improve out there. I think his jumps, his line to the ball are very good. His all-around game is starting to get a little more comfortable at the major league level.
“You look at him and you forget he just turned 22. He's a youngster. He continues to get better, and hopefully it's an exponential growth here in the next month or two when we really see a lot of things happen.”
And for his next trick? He’s going to Wrigley Field.
White Sox fans are annually jazzed for the Crosstown series, and there’s no doubt it’s a fun time of the year. But this season’s edition will pack a little extra punch. Not only are the White Sox playing a lot better baseball than they have in recent seasons, seasons during which the Cubs have been World Series contenders — and one of the main drivers of that, Lucas Giolito, gets the ball in Wednesday’s game — but Jimenez is now a major leaguer.
The headlining return piece in the Jose Quintana trade has looked like a bit of a steal for a while now, considering the prospect rankings and all the hype that came with them. But now Jimenez will square off against the team that signed him, in the park he always assumed he’d call his major league home.
The fun-loving Jimenez doesn’t seem like the kind of guy to hold a grudge or want to show the Cubs what they traded away, but he might end up doing the latter anyway.
Imagine the frenzy White Sox fans will be whipped into if Jimenez parks one on Waveland Avenue.
“Everybody gets excited about going over to that part of town,” Renteria said. “For him, in specific, coming from the organization originally, I'm sure he wants to go out there and show them what he's made of. And hopefully it's something pretty solid.
“He'll be able to control himself. The excitement will maybe play in his favor, assuming it's contained and directed in the right place.”
There were bright spots all over this organization before Jimenez started swinging a hot bat. Giolito’s been a Cy Young candidate through the season’s first two and a half months. Tim Anderson still boasts one of the highest batting averages in the American league. Yoan Moncada is much improved from his disappointing 2018 season. James McCann has been one heck of a discovery at catcher.
But Jimenez represented and continues to represent the bright future of this organization more than any of them. And now that he’s one of those 2019 bright spots, too, that future looks more realistic than ever before.
It doesn’t really matter who Jimenez homers against. But if he can do it against the Cubs, at Wrigley Field, his permanent smile might grow a little bigger. And he won’t be the only South Sider with a big smile if the ball hawks at Wrigley are tracking down a mammoth homer off a White Sox bat.