It’s finally here. Well, almost.
No matter what happens with the ongoing pursuits of mega free agents Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, one thing is for certain: 2019 will be the Year of the Eloy.
The top-ranked prospect in the White Sox farm system will finally make his major league debut this season, with it expected that it will be just a few weeks into the 2019 campaign when Eloy Jimenez will be summoned from the minor leagues.
That will be as big of a deal as last August’s arrival of Michael Kopech, when South Side baseball fans flocked to Guaranteed Rate Field to witness the first pitches the organization’s top-ranked pitching prospect threw as a major leaguer. But, hopefully, unlike Kopech, White Sox fans will see far more of Jimenez. Not only is Jimenez a position player, an everyday presence in the lineup as opposed to the starting pitcher Kopech, who throws every fifth day, but Kopech’s arrival in the majors was brief thanks to a season-ending (and 2019-eliminating) need for Tommy John surgery.
Like fans, Jimenez is ready to go.
“Yeah,” Jimenez said, “I feel ready, yeah.”
Of course, there are plenty who believe this moment should’ve happened already, that Jimenez should’ve joined the major leaguers in white jerseys during Friday night’s opening ceremonies at SoxFest rather than the group of prospects in black jerseys. That was one of the biggest talking points during the 2018 season, as Jimenez tore up the minor leagues and in the minds of many gave the White Sox every reason to promote him.
General manager Rick Hahn lauded the benefits of Jimenez spending the entire season in the minor leagues. Meanwhile, the financial realities of baseball swirled around the entire conversation. And so Jimenez has yet to make his major league debut. He likely won’t break camp with the White Sox, either, with the most likely route being a few more weeks in the minor leagues before making his debut somewhere in mid April. Need a template? Look to how the Cubs handled Kris Bryant's promotion in the early weeks of the 2015 season.
As you saw above, Jimenez has never been shy about declaring his readiness for the big leagues. He said it at last winter’s SoxFest, he said it throughout the season, and he said it again Friday night. And the White Sox have always viewed it as a good thing. They love his confidence.
None of that confidence has diminished as he’s had to wait to achieve his major league dream — heck, he told Our Chuck Garfien he wants to win the AL Rookie of the Year Award in 2019 — and he seems to have come to peace with how things have played out to this point, towing the company line Friday.
“I don't want to rush my time. I don't want to rush my development process,” Jimenez said. “When the moment comes, I'm going to be there. And I'm going to be ready to do my best.
“It's not my decision. If they made that decision (to keep him off the Opening Day roster), I'm going to accept it and I'm going to play hard and when I get there, I'm going to do my best.”
Don’t think for one second the White Sox postponing Jimenez’s big league arrival is a reflection of some sort of negative opinion about the player. Last year, Hahn explained the need for Jimenez to work on his game to become a more well-rounded player, and Jimenez agrees, saying he’s been working on improving his defense so he doesn’t have to be a designated hitter.
No, the White Sox are over the moon when it comes to Jimenez, and his presence in their everyday lineup beginning later this year is a big part of what makes their long-term future so bright. In fact, while the focus this offseason has been on the possibility of importing a superstar player like Machado or Harper to the South Side, the truth is the White Sox believe they’re getting a player like that even if those two guys sign elsewhere.
“We think the world of Eloy. We think the world of his future,” Hahn said Friday. “Obviously, he’s still extremely young and he’s going to have to take that next step at the big league level. And based upon what we’ve seen from other players, it’s not always smooth. There’s going to be some setbacks, there’s going to be some hardship and developmental hiccups along the way.
“But in terms of a guy who has a very strong likelihood of being a premium talent on a championship-caliber team for a long time, Eloy’s on that list for sure.”
The winter’s biggest free agents remain unsigned, but regardless of their eventual decisions, Jimenez is the guy who could end up having the biggest impact on these 2019 White Sox. That would be as tangible a sign as any that the rebuilding effort is moving forward in a positive direction.
Though even as the loss total hit the century mark last season, that progress has been happening down on the farm, and with Jimenez and Kopech ascending to the major leagues, the rest of the organization’s highly rated prospects are moving through the ranks, as well. Dylan Cease will likely start the season at Triple-A Charlotte, the same likely for Zack Collins. Dane Dunning and Luis Robert and Micker Adolfo are likely ticketed for Double-A Birmingham, where Nick Madrigal will likely see time in 2019, too.
In other words, we’re beginning to reach the point where the biggest wave of talent yet is about to wash ashore on the South Side. So while Jimenez is capable of making the biggest splash, there’s a lot coming behind him, too.
“He’s not alone,” Hahn said. “If for some reason the baseball gods have something cruel in mind for us this year in regards to Eloy, there’ll be others that are going to have important developmental years and put themselves squarely in that conversation.
“It’s not going to surprise me if a year from now I’m standing at this podium talking about Luis Robert and how he could potentially fit into that, or any of a number of guys, Nick Madrigal, the potential outfield talent that we have, many of which will be at Double-A or above come Opening Day.
“It’s getting closer.”