Eloy Jimenez’s reaction when asked to confirm that serving as the designated hitter is not his preference said it all. Like Jose Abreu and Yonder Alonso before him this season, Jimenez would rather not DH. He likes playing the field, as most players seem to do, something that aids them in concentration and staying locked into a game.
But this is the American League, and someone has to serve as the DH for the White Sox every single day. Jimenez was the guy Sunday in his return from the injured list, back in the lineup after sitting on the shelf with an ulnar nerve contusion. Manager Rick Renteria said that Jimenez will likely DH for a few days before he shows the White Sox his elbow is in good enough shape to return to his normal spot in left field.
The question, of course, with Jimenez is how long left field will be his regular spot.
Even in a to-this-point less explosive rookie campaign than some overeager prognosticators might have anticipated, Jimenez has left no doubt that he can swing a mean stick. During a great month of June, he made a habit of blasting home runs out to center field, regularly disturbing the foliage on the batter’s eye and in one instance smashing a ball all the way to the stairs on the Fan Deck.
But his defense has been a different story. Fans groaned when general manager Rick Hahn said multiple times during the 2018 season that Jimenez had to work on his defense, but that’s proven to be the case during Jimenez’s first taste of the major leagues. He’s made myriad awkward-looking plays — plenty of which ended in outs, sure — and had multiple communication mishaps with fellow fielders.
Those have decreased as time has gone on and he’s gained more experience, an important part of the equation, but just look to his most recent play in the outfield, when a communication overlap with center fielder Charlie Tilson led to his latest stay on the injured list.
So is regularly DH’ing a part of Jimenez’s extended future? Renteria says no.
"He's too young for me to view him as a DH, to be honest,” Renteria said Sunday. “And I think he's shown so much improvement in the outfield that it would be, I think, derelict on my part and on our part as an organization to limit the ability for him to play on both sides of the baseball.
“He's an extremely hard worker, he's very conscientious, he's been going through a lot of the things that we need him to go through. He sincerely has improved out there a lot. And so we want to see if we can maximize his ability to do everything he can as a Major League Baseball player.
“And then time will tell us. If that ends up ultimately being his lot — I don't foresee that. But if that ultimately becomes his lot, that becomes his lot. But I think right now we're going to continue to use him on both sides of the baseball, for sure.”
So obviously the White Sox have no plans to move the 22-year-old to a full-time role as a designated hitter, and they’ll give him plenty of opportunity to improve in left, which they insist he’s done since the beginning of the season.
But there are other complications that make Jimenez look like a long-term fixture in left field, specifically other projected pieces of the White Sox rosters of the future.
As mentioned, Abreu doesn’t like DH’ing, either. But if he is going to be a part of the White Sox plans into his mid- and late-30s (and it sure seems like he will be), how much can he be relied upon solely as a first baseman? Will his appearances as a designated hitter increase in an effort to keep him healthy throughout the course of a major league season? That was a point of emphasis when the White Sox acquired Alonso over the offseason to share time at first and DH with Abreu.
And then there’s the White Sox most recent first-round draft pick, Andrew Vaughn, a slugger who could rise through the system rapidly given the advanced nature of his collegiate bat. But though the White Sox expressed confidence in his defensive ability at first base, his glove was knocked in scouting reports in the run-up to the draft. Is it possible that his long-term future is as a DH, too?
Neither Abreu nor Vaughn can play another position besides first base, presumably — despite Abreu’s frequent rounds of taking grounders at shortstop during batting practice — so that pigeonholes those two players as either first basemen or DHs. And if both are going to be part of this team's future, that might answer the question about Jimenez right there.
The good news is that things can obviously get better for Jimenez out in left field. None of these young core pieces are finished products, and developing as a defender will be part of Jimenez’s work over the next several years, just like developing as a hitter will be. Renteria always extols the benefits of simply gaining experience at the big league level, and it’s quite possible that there could be vast improvement the more Jimenez plays out there, rendering this whole discussion moot.
But if DH ends up being the spot Jimenez is best suited to play — if that ends up being his “lot,” to quote Renteria — will there be a spot open for him on future White Sox teams?