Award-Winning Season for Cubs Prospect Eloy Jimenez
Chicago Cubs prospect Eloy Jimenez may need a larger trophy case and a thicker scrapbook before his professional baseball career is over. This summer the Cubs named the 19-year-old outfielder the organization’s Minor League Player of the Year. The Midwest League (Low Class A) named him Most Valuable Player. He starred in the Futures Game in San Diego on July 10th, with two hits in three at-bats and a spectacular leaping catch in right field making a lasting impression. He made mid- and post-season All-Star Teams. The Cubs number two prospect (according to MLB Pipeline, he ranks second to second baseman-outfielder Ian Happ) enjoyed a Carolina League Championship, after his post-season promotion from the (Low Class A) South Bend Cubs to the (High Class A) Myrtle Beach Pelicans. The Pelicans defeated the Lynchburg Hillcats in the mid-September title game.
On September 23rd, before a game against the St. Louis Cardinals, the Chicago Cubs front office honored Jimenez with his award in a dual ceremony that included Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year Trevor Clifton, a 21-year-old right-hander with the Myrtle Beach club.
The Cubs signed Jimenez in July 2013 as the number one ranked international player, according to Baseball America. Already six feet, four inches tall and 200 pounds at age sixteen, and a righthanded line drive hitter with above average speed, the Dominican hopeful signed for a $2.8 million bonus. After three seasons spent with the Arizona Rookie League Cubs, short-season Eugene Emeralds, and South Bend teams, Jimenez has compiled a combined slash line of .297/.338/.469 (BA/OBP/SLG) in 211 regular season games. In his award-winning 2016 season, he led the Midwest League in doubles (40 two-baggers in just 112 games), the apples-and-oranges metric known as on-base-plus-slugging (OPS, .901), and slugging average (.532.). He hit right-handed pitchers as well or better than lefties. He batted an impressive .329 with 14 round-trippers and 81 runs batted in, continuing an upward trajectory that will endear him to player ratings analysts.
Notwithstanding the highly sharable images of his leaping grab in the Futures Game, scouts say Jimenez needs to work on his defense. Though he possesses good speed for a large man, he is projected to remain a corner outfielder. Coaches may also work to get him to elevate the ball more often with his swings. Forty doubles in less than 500 at-bats exhibits indisputable gap power, but Jimenez may be capable of driving more balls over the fence as he develops.
When a rising prospect appears in a talent-rich, successful organization, naturally the question will be “Where does he fit in? Will he be blocked when his time comes?” The Cubs have right-handed power in the outfield in Jorge Soler, a Gold Glove caliber fielder and high contact right-handed batter in Albert Almora Jr., plus spray-hitting defensive whiz Jason Heyward, all of whom could be on the club for several years to come. Kris Bryant, Ben Zobrist, and a rehabilitating Kyle Schwarber are likely to spend time in the outfield over the next few seasons as well. Already the Cubs have dealt one of Jimenez’ South Bend buddies, middle infielder and pre-season top organization prospect Gleyber Torres, to the New York Yankees in the Aroldis Chapman trade. The front office reportedly fielded calls on Jimenez this year. Every year before trade deadline, the Cubs like any other club will need to consider trading from its wealth of prospects to add a veteran, proven reliever, or fill an emergency need in the starting rotation, catcher, or other core position should it become necessary.
As Chicago Cubs Manager and baseball lifer Joe Maddon likes to say, the game just has a way of working these things out. For now, Jimenez will continue his work out west as the Mesa Solar Sox begin their the Arizona Fall League season in October. He turns 20 in November and no doubt is ticketed to advance in the Cubs farm system in 2017. The “fit” question can wait another year or two, and Eloy Jimenez should delight fans around the Carolina, Southern, and Pacific Coast Leagues in the meantime.
Feature photo by Mathew Carper.