White Sox

The similarities between Eloy Jimenez's 2019 and Yoan Moncada's 2018

The similarities between Eloy Jimenez's 2019 and Yoan Moncada's 2018

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.

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.’”

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Latest Eloy Jiménez misadventure gives Christian Yelich inside-the-park homer

Latest Eloy Jiménez misadventure gives Christian Yelich inside-the-park homer

Maybe Eloy Jiménez is improving defensively in left field.

But it’s undoubtedly tough to figure out whether that’s the case or not when he does the kind of thing that happened in the fifth inning Thursday night.

Christian Yelich lifted a fly ball to left field, near the foul line. He might have thought it was foul because he wasn’t moving very fast out of the batter’s box or down the first-base line. Jiménez came over to try to make a play and very much didn’t. The ball dropped past his outstretched arm, and unable to slow himself down, he went tumbling into the netting and into the seats while the ball rolled around in the outfield and Yelich motored around the bases for an inside-the-park home run.

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“Was it a tough play for him? Yes,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said after the game. “Could it have been made? Should it have been made? It’s possible, yes.”

That result, which tied the game at 2 and started a four-run inning for the Milwaukee Brewers en route to an 8-3 win over the White Sox, makes the play particularly more glaring than some of the other Jiménez misadventures in the outfield.

But there have been others, and those moments are sticking in the minds of fans and observers who are trying to figure out whether Jiménez should be out there at all.

Renteria stuck to the same line he’s used before when discussing Jiménez and outfield defense. And though certain fans will claim they’ve “seen enough,” the White Sox aren’t ready to dramatically alter their long-term outlook because one of their finest young hitters — who’s still just 23 years old, by the way — is still developing as a defender.

“The story is not finished at all in terms of where he’s at defensively or how he’s going to improve,” Renteria said. “My expectation is that he will still continue to improve. I’m going to state that this is probably a blip, and time will tell if I’m absolutely off my rocker and wrong.

“It was an inside-the-parker to tie the game. Everybody will clamor to that. Unfortunately for him, we weren’t able to turn the offense around to kind of quiet everything, so that’s the thing that stands out a lot. I don’t blame anybody for looking at it. It’s a legitimate perspective and a legitimate question to ask.

“This one is not going to take away my belief in that this young man is going to continue to work.”

That’s a very reasonable approach by the manager, and his long-term outlook could certainly wind up coming to fruition.

RELATED: White Sox need Eloy Jiménez to play smarter and avoid injury in left field

On the other hand, we just went through this a week ago.

Jiménez crashed into the outfield wall during the season’s third game, hitting his head and needing to leave not long after. He missed the following two contests while waiting for the league to give him the green light to return to action. The conversation about Jiménez needing to play smarter and whether he’s a good defender are two different ones. But it’s hard not to put it all under the same umbrella of left-fielding.

Jiménez has been adamant in his desire to improve out there, working daily with outfield coach Daryl Boston and reacting disgustingly when someone suggests he should think about DH’ing.

“F**k that,” he said in January.

While Jiménez swings a bat capable of doing big-time damage, the truth is he’s not yet a finished product as a defender. The questions zipping around social media, though, wonder if that finished product will ever roll off the assembly line.

If you're trying to figure else where else he could play, good luck. There’s already a logjam of sorts in the first base/designated hitter area on the White Sox roster, both this year and in the years to come. Renteria is already facing a juggling act when it comes to José Abreu, Edwin Encarnación, Yasmani Grandal and James McCann — not to mention Zack Collins, who started at DH on Thursday — and getting them at-bats. Even if both McCann, slated for free agency, and Encarnación, whose contract gives the White Sox a team option for 2021, aren’t part of that mix as soon as next season, one of baseball’s highest ranked prospects, Andrew Vaughn, figures not to be too far off from joining it.

Adding Jiménez to that mix creates a near impossibility when it comes to the number of bats that need to be in the daily lineup, plus then there’s a big hole in left field.

It’s not to say the White Sox are forced to keep Jiménez in left field for the entirety of his contract with no other courses of action. It’s to say that it’s a tough puzzle to solve — one that might have any overly desirable outcomes. Jiménez is too valuable to the lineup, and that might mean just dealing with some defensive misadventures every so often.

The question becomes, though, how much are the White Sox willing to trade off? Jiménez has both put his health in jeopardy and cost the team runs with his play in left field. It’s certainly possible that all goes away with time. After all, he doesn't need to win a Gold Glove, he just needs to avoid damage to his body and on the scoreboard.

But as the games get more and more meaningful on the South Side, be it in this most unusual season’s race to October or under normal circumstances in future seasons — when already high expectations only figure to get bigger — how much longer can they afford that risk?


Rick Renteria: Tim Anderson, not Luis Robert, will be White Sox leadoff man

Rick Renteria: Tim Anderson, not Luis Robert, will be White Sox leadoff man

There's a lineup controversy brewing on the South Side.

OK, really, when isn't there a lineup controversy brewing in every fan base across baseball? But still, White Sox fans are going to have feelings about this one.

Luis Robert is having himself a heck of a start to his major league career. He leads the American League in WAR, his teammates are calling him the league MVP, and he's showing off every one of those tools we've been hearing so much about.

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And since Tim Anderson went on the injured list last weekend with a groin strain, Robert's been doing his dizzying array of dazzling baseball things out of the leadoff spot. If you think his overall numbers in his first dozen big league games are impressive — a .354/.415/.542 slash line to go along with two homers, three doubles, six RBIs, eight runs scored, five walks and an AL-leading four stolen bases — just wait till you see what he's done in five games as the White Sox leadoff man: a .429/.520/.667 slash line with one of those homers, two of those doubles, two of those RBIs, five of those runs scored, four of those walks and three of those stolen bases.

It's a pretty compelling argument to keep him there, even when Anderson returns from his 10-day stay on the IL, which should be soon. Anderson worked out at full capacity Thursday at the team's alternate training site in Schaumburg. He says he's ready to return to action and should do so next week.

But if you want to see Robert kept as the White Sox permanent leadoff man, you're not going to get your wish.

"I look at the guy who's actually had the experience," manager Rick Renteria said Thursday. "Right now, Luis is doing it on sheer talent. You can see some at-bats that look very, very impressive and some that might be not as impressive. But overwhelmingly, his talent is taking over on his ability to do what he's doing there.

"I still consider Timmy our leadoff guy. And we'll find a way to continue to adjust the lineup a little bit. We'll see how Timmy's feeling after his stint over in Schaumburg. ... Once he comes back, see where he's at. I've got to talk to him and see how he's doing and then figure out where I'll insert him. But right now, if the question is, 'Will I insert him at the top of the lineup?' my answer to you right now is yes.

"I still plan on inserting him at the top of the lineup. If that's enough to give everybody some fodder and some conversation and question: 'Why would I do that?' Well, he's a pretty good hitter, and he's done pretty well for us up there."

That will surely cause bouts of furious rage in some corners of the fan base. It will prompt "attaboy" cheers from another. There will be plenty who don't care who bats leadoff as long as the White Sox keep winning.

But the debate is an interesting one. Personally, I agreed with Anderson when he pointed out Thursday that you only lead off once, which not only sounds like the title of a pretty lame James Bond movie but also is true. A manager only gets to line up his hitters in one inning per night. The rest is up to to the flow of the game. You might never put a stereotypical No. 5 hitter in the leadoff spot, but if the cleanup man makes the final out of the first inning, guess who's leading off come the second? The idea, and the White Sox are trying to do just this, is to have good, capable hitters in all nine spots in the batting order, meaning no matter who's up, there are no gaping holes.

Obviously, there's more to it than just those things, and Anderson, the reigning big league batting champ, isn't exactly looking to take himself out of the top spot in the White Sox potent lineup.

"I get the party started," he said with a laugh. "I get to start the party. I get to set the tone. If I’m able to start out with a double, there is a chance that I’m going to score that inning. Just being able to set the table and getting the party started."

RELATED: White Sox manager Rick Renteria finally has talent — and knows what to do with it

Robert was slotted down in the back half of the White Sox lineup when the season started. The idea of batting Robert seventh was to allow him not to feel any extra pressure while getting his first taste of the major leagues. Then the injury bug took an oversized chomp out of the White Sox, and things changed. Even with a sudden promotion to the top of the lineup, though, Robert has fared extremely well.

But while watching from the press box or on TV might reveal one thing, Renteria insists there's a lot more going on that Robert and the White Sox need to deal with.

"You guys are measuring it through the eyes of just the sheer talent right now," the manager said. "I take every at-bat and look at every swing, every approach in every pitch that he takes, to kind of measure where he's at. There's a couple of at-bats where I know he walks away from the batter's box and I know he's kind of scratching his head, thinking, 'Man, what just happened there?'

"He's still learning, he's still young. He's reacting. I want him to be anticipatory. ... Right now, he's reacting. It's pure skill that he's bringing to the table. But I don't want him to lose that positive energy that he brings and that confidence that he has. We just want to help him understand how to direct it in a much more efficient way."

That likely won't sell those who will let their objections be known when Renteria's lineup gets tweeted the day Anderson returns from the injured list. But that's the kind of thing that comes with playoff expectations and winning ways.

Renteria welcomes all the lineup chatter, however critical of him it might be. There wasn't quite the vitriol when his lineups included Welington Castillo, Ryan Cordell and A.J. Reed. He likes this better.

"I'm glad that I have the problem of lineup construction. I'm glad that all of you have the opportunity to discuss lineup construction because that means that the Chicago White Sox are in a great place," he said. "We might not always agree on where I put things, as I'm told many times. ... I'm not really a big follower of a whole lot of things, but I'm told many times. 'Why'd I do this?' or, 'Why'd I do that?'

"And that's great. I love the fact that people are conversing about the Chicago White Sox in that manner because that means we have significant pieces. And I'm very thankful for that, to be honest.

"I'll always try to give you a reason. You might not agree with the reasoning, but I'll always try to give you a reason. We are very thankful to have the players that we have right now that are giving us a lot of potential joy as we continue to move forward."