No one is freaking out over Eloy Jimenez’s rookie season the way they freaked out over Yoan Moncada’s first full season in the majors in 2018.
That’s likely because Jimenez isn’t striking out at a rate that will put him among the all-time single-season leaders. Moncada struck out 217 times in 2018 and earned that unwanted distinction.
Meanwhile, Jimenez has provided plenty of highlights, chiefly in the form of home runs, like the one he hit Saturday night against the visiting Oakland Athletics. Fittingly, they handed out Jimenez bobbleheads earlier in the evening.
Bobble Eloy pic.twitter.com/KmNWUnPiYO— Vinnie Duber (@VinnieDuber) August 10, 2019
But while Jimenez has sent crowds into frenzies with homers and earned his status as a bobblehead, it doesn’t mean there aren’t similarities to his first full season in the majors and Moncada's just a year ago.
If we’re playing the expectations game, Jimenez hasn’t met the out-of-this-world ones that accompanied him as he embarked on his big league career. It was going to be mighty difficult to do that, of course, but with Jimenez entering the season as one of the highest ranked prospects in the game, plenty of fans and onlookers expected him to arrive in the majors as a one-man run-producing machine. I’m as guilty as anyone, projecting a whopping home-run total before Opening Day.
Jimenez has flashed plenty of examples of why those expectations were what they were, showing off his power with tape-measure home runs, often to center field. His game-winning homer to beat the Cubs in his first game at Wrigley Field was as electrifying a moment as any during the White Sox rebuild.
But there he was in Saturday’s lineup, batting seventh with a .235 batting average, a .291 on-base percentage and a .446 slugging percentage. After a stellar June, he’s slashing just .205/.264/.361 in July and August, with a stay on the injured list in there after he suffered an ulnar nerve contusion in an outfield collision with Charlie Tilson.
That’s not the production most folks expected from Jimenez, who has been hyped as a middle-of-the-order fixture for the better part of the next decade.
And that’s what is reminiscent of Moncada’s 2018 season. After arriving in the majors in 2017 to much fanfare, Moncada struggled mightily during a disappointing 2018 season. But then he took what he learned from those struggles, went to work, and he’s now the best hitter on the team, the owner of a .301/.358/.535 slash line while he recovers from a hamstring strain.
If that’s the same path Jimenez follows, learning during his first full year in the bigs and then exploding in 2020, the White Sox will be ecstatic about that.
“They're similar in that the major league level, learning all of the adjustments that guys are making with him,” manager Rick Renteria said before Saturday’s game. “I think it's also one of those things where as a player you're trying to make sure you keep your confidence level up, you know you're capable of doing something at a high level.
“He's going to have to continue to make adjustments and make improvements, he knows that. The one thing we don't want him to do is lose confidence, and I don't think that will happen with him.
“I think guys that are highly skilled, like these guys are, you've heard me say they make exponential jumps. From, I think, one year to the next they could show you a lot more than you've seen at this particular moment.
“We still have six or seven weeks of the regular season left so I wouldn't be surprised as he continues to settle in here in the second half that maybe he gets to that point where he's starting to move forward in a positive direction before the end of the season.”
As Renteria discussed, adjustments and the learning process seem to be the biggest shared experiences between the two centerpieces of the rebuilding effort. Last year, we heard talk of Moncada dealing with how major league umpires were calling him, a contributing factor, White Sox brass speculated, to the high number of strikeouts.
Jimenez is no different, already impacted in a similar fashion this season.
“You see an umpire ... punch out Eloy Jimenez on a ball three inches down with the bases loaded, that has an effect on Eloy,” general manager Rick Hahn said on the White Sox Talk Podcast earlier this week. “You talk to him and you say, ‘Don’t change anything, you’re doing the right thing. That’s not a strike. You had a great at-bat, a nine-pitch at-bat or a 10-pitch at-bat. That was perfect, don’t change.’
“At the same time, you’ve got a 22-year-old kid who views himself as a run producer, and he didn’t produce a run there. So in the next week or so, if you’ve been watching, you see him start expanding a little bit and starting to go outside the zone.
“In time, he’ll learn — just as Moncada learned — to focus the damage in the zone. That’s going to come in time.”
Moncada’s relationship with Jose Abreu has been discussed extensively, and while Moncada deserves tons of credit for the work he put in during the offseason to go from slumping youngster to All-Star caliber, one can’t help but connect the dots between Abreu’s daily emphasis on work and Moncada’s decision to get to work over the winter.
Perhaps Moncada can have, or already is having, a similar effect on Jimenez. Moncada knows what it’s like to go through a tough first full season in the major leagues, having just done it last year. He has offered up advice to Jimenez, whose locker is right next to Moncada’s in the White Sox clubhouse.
“The first year is always difficult,” Moncada said through team translator Billy Russo. “That's why you need to be patient and trust yourself. That has been part of my advice to him: Be patient, trust yourself. I think everybody knows that he has a lot of talent, and when you have that talent, that's going to show up at the end of the day.
“For him it's just — because I passed through that — it's just more about be patient, don't try to rush and don't try to take too much pressure on your shoulders.”
No one is freaking out over Jimenez’s rookie season, and no one should be. It’s absolutely normal for a rookie player to spend his rookie season adjusting to the big leagues. Jimenez has also shown plenty along the way to keep very much alive the idea that he’ll live up to the hype.
These are the growing pains that are not at all unexpected — even for someone with sky-high expectations. Moncada went through the same thing, and while the expectations he had perhaps pale now in comparison to the ones Jimenez came to the South Side with, don't forget that Moncada was once ranked as the No. 1 prospect in baseball.
If Jimenez’s 2019 looks a little like Moncada’s 2018, then maybe Jimenez’s 2020 will look a little like Moncada’s 2019, which has been a breakout year for the White Sox third baseman.
“He’s always saying to me,” Jimenez said of Moncada’s advice, “‘Just don’t try to be someone else. Just be you.’”