Eloy Jimenez emerging as top prospect on and off the field

When you hang around the backfields as much as I do, in addition to seeing a lot of baseball, one of the things you get to see in Arizona is the person behind the player.  You get to see them grow up before your very eyes.

When I first saw Eloy Jimenez, he was rather quiet and went about his business.  After all, he was just 16 years old, in a new country, and along with Gleyber Torres, he was the youngest player in camp.  With his surroundings unfamiliar, he clung closely to what he knew best, which was playing baseball.

Torres Jimenez

He also dove into his studies. learning English and returning home to get his high school diploma -- a rarity among players who sign early in international free agency.  At age 19, he understands English exceptionally well and the speech is coming almost as quickly.  He has surprised me in how much he has adapted to the accent, cadence, etc. of the language.

Of course, he is here to play baseball first and foremost, but the off the field work ethic and ability to adapt quickly helped Jimenez fit in better.  He is most certainly not quiet now.  He jokes with all of his teammates, takes to coaching extremely  well, and has even become a mentor of sorts to the players who were once like him -- alone in a strange country with little in common except the ability to play baseball at a high level.

Eloy JimenezOne coach here told me it even reflected in his body language.  He looked more confident and had more of a swagger about him off the field.  Jimenez just started to look like he belonged.  And anyone who has had to make a sudden change, whether it is with employment, their residence, or with anything that pervades their everyday life, getting comfortable with your surroundings cannot be underestimated.  We tend to strive when we feel we're in the right place.  When we feel like we belong, everything else seems to fall into place and suddenly we find success a little easier to come by.

The Cubs development staff seems to understand this and they take that into consideration every bit as much as they take the improvement of those skills on the field.  It is all part of the big picture approach the Cubs take toward player development.Eloy and Sierra

When I saw Jimenez last fall, I just saw a different person than that tall, lanky unassuming kid.  I saw a player who was ready mentally and physically to take a big leap forward.

While Jimenez has always been considered something of a polished player, he was still raw in some aspects.  His discipline at the plate wavered.  He was prone to chasing pitches -- and still is at times.  That has improved and while Jimenez isn't drawing a lot of walks yet, he is getting himself into better hitting counts.  That, in turn, has allowed him to tap into that raw power more frequently this season, which I would rate as at least a 70 on the 20-80 scale.

And oh, that power.  It felt like everyday I would report on how many baseballs Jimenez would Eloy  Jimenez HRdeposit atop the Under Armour Performance center.  The shots were loud, long, and majestic.  Jimenez works on all parts of his game during batting practice, including taking the ball the other way -- but it's that last sequence of each session that would bring a smile to his (and coaches, teammates, fans) face more than any other.  That's when hitters generally let loose and take their rips -- and nobody was more fun to watch in that element than Jimenez.

But Jimenez isn't just a power hitter.  He's not the athlete that Jorge Soler is, but he may be adopting a better feel for the game at an earlier stage.  He goes the opposite way routinely now, especially with two strikes.  His defense has improved.  He is getting better reads, taking better routes, and for good measure made several diving catches in LF, where he moved in deference to the more athletic, strong-armed Eddy Julio Martinez.  No catch, however, was more impressive than the one he made in the Futures Game earlier this week.  Jimenez showed athleticism and awareness for where he was on the field, timing the jump perfectly to snatch the ball from the stands.

We knew about the power -- and even if you didn't after reading about it here last fall and this spring, you certainly witnessed it at the Futures Game.

What may have been less known is that he has solid tools across the board. Jimenez looks to have average or better tools across the board with his raw power rating at least a 70 and the game power quickly catching up as he improves his approach at the plate.  The defense looks like it can be at least average and possible a 55 with a 55+ arm.  He runs well now but will probably settle in as an average runner at best as he matures physically.

Where Jimenez may have surprised many is with his hit tool.  He has a swing plane that stays in the zone longer than most power hitters and I see him as a 55 hitter because of his consistent hard contact that his plus bat speed creates, especially when you consider that Jimenez also has the strong hands along with the willingness to adjust and go the other way.  The approach, as we mentioned, is a work in progress, but considering Jimenez's intelligence and coachability, it's hard to imagine that part of his game won't continue to develop over time.  Remember that he is a 19 year old power hitter (who normally take longer to develop) in a league where most players are about 3 years older than he is (median age of the MWL is 22 per Baseball America).  He has come a long way, but he is by no means done catching up to the league.  He may get to advanced A ball by the end of this year -- which would potentially make him a full 2 years younger than Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber were during their time in Daytona.Eloy autographs

Now those would be lofty comparisons, especially to the physically similarly Kris Bryant, who is considered among the very best players in baseball right now.  So I don't want to put unfair expectations on the kid, but when it comes to physical talent and mental makeup, Jimenez has a chance to be an impact power hitter with a solid all-around game in his own right.  He's just now starting to come into his own.  He is still learning to get comfortable with his environment, the Cubs culture, his teammates. and his approach at the plate.

And much like those majestic home runs that so often disappear into the cloudless skies of Arizona, the sky is the limit for Jimenez right now.

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  • Great article John. Man the future is looking brighter all the time. Have you ever seen so many prospects pan out, as they seem to do under Theo?

  • In reply to vegascubsfan:

    Thank you. And certainly not this many hitting prospects.

  • In reply to vegascubsfan:

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  • I just compared Jimenez's stats this year in A- ball to Javy's 2012 season in A- and A+ when he was 19. Remarkably similar, with Javy a tad better in HRs, OBP and OPS. For whatever that's worth.

  • In reply to TTP:

    Interesting. A fair comparison in that they were same age, same league, and both relatively raw at the time.

  • In reply to TTP:

    Javy had notable advantages in power (SLG about .70 higher) and speed (20 SB vs 6). All their other numbers are eerily similar. Puts into perspective just how naturally talented Baez is, when his approach and mechanics were pretty far behind what Jimenez has shown so far.

  • He reminds me of Derek Lee

  • In reply to Bash Bros:

    If he hits like Lee we will all be thrilled. That would be a nice outcome.

  • In reply to Bash Bros:

    He does actually. Never thought of that.

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    Let's trade him for someone younger!

    In seriousness: this article combined with Cease information this morning (*&^%&$^%&#$) really lays clear the division within the Cubs minor league system. They have been nothing short of outstanding at developing position players but the pitching side has really, really struggled.

    Maybe this is just the result of focus: Bryant, Schwarber, Happ, Torres, Jimenez, and Contreras were all first round picks or top IFA guys. But it's worth noting that the Cubs have gotten value out of other high picks like Zagunis and Hannemann and seem to have guys who can be major league contributors in the later rounds like Rademacher.

    The pitching couldn't be more different. Prospects -- even guys like Cease who were Top 10 before injury -- are just fed into a meatgrinder that produces nothing. I get that pitching is risky but when it's producing nothing in aggregate, it's a little concerning. I know McLeod made reference to the problems with developing pitching earlier this season, so they're certainly aware of the issue. But to this point, the results of any chances they made this winter are mixed at best. (Thank God for Trevor Clifton.)

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Hey, at least they finally have a few pitchers drafted/signed by this regime reach AAA (Williams, Zastryzny, Johnson, Rivero). Of course injuries have held back two of them this season.

    It would really help if Underwood could get his season on track and finish strong. He is the one guy in the upper levels that has the ability to really make an impact as a starter or reliever. The rest of the guys in AA/AAA can help, but are far more likely to end up BOR/MR types.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Tinstaapp strikes again.

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    In reply to Gerald:

    This really isn't tinstaapp. That explains weeding out of the pool of pitchers. Not a complete disappearance of said pool. The latter just shouldn't be happening.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Which also highlights how risky spending top picks on arms is. Even looking at other teams success ratio it's dicey at best. The Mets make a fine current example. Injuries are taking quite a toll on that rotation.
    That said it'd be nice to see a few from the '14-'15 classes make it. Time will tell.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    This is why I believe they continue to go the FA route and trade from so e depth. There is nothing to get overly excited about from Myrtle Beach on up. Roater fillers and 5 starter/mop up types.

    It's a crazy contrast between the two groups.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    After reading all the lamentations about the FO's inability to develop pitching, I went back and looked at their first four drafts to sort of rank us vs the competition and see if we'd missed the boat on big time pitchers.
    In general, we've killed it with the first rounders and they were clearly the correct picks in 2013 (Bryant when everyone was screaming for Jon Grey), 2014 (when we passed over Nola and raised eyebrows with Schwarber), and probably 2015 with Ian Happ. On the surface, we could moan that Almora isn't a superstar with the 6th pick, but that was a dismal draft and Almora was an obvious high floor pick with the glove and contact skills to be an annual 3 WAR player.
    The real bone of contention is with Pierce Johnson and Paul Blackburn in the supplemental first round. Johnson only around because he'd had some injuries at Mizzou. Blackburn was a HS kid with a 3 pick mix that could get it up to 94 and still had some projectability. Johnson hasn't been able to stay healthy and Blackburn's stuff has actually backed up. No amount of developmental expertise can make up for these issues. Underwood lasted until the second round because he was inconsistent and immature. Then he got his act together and became a unilateral top 75 prospect. Now he's had elbow issues the last two seasons and it feels like an inevitability that he'll have a TJ surgery in his future. Again, this is why pitchers are risky propositions. You have to get lucky and we have not been.
    McNeil and Conway may become viable relief options. Rashad Crawford and Rademacher were nice late round picks and Crawford could still pay off big.
    Overall just an average draft at best.
    2013 was the first season where the FO won big. Bryant is a potential HOF. Hanneman was an unusual pick but could still pan out. At worst, he's a 5th OF and there was nothing special taken after him in the 3rd round. David Garner was a nice pick in the 7th and could be a high leverage reliever. Clifton was a great over slot pick in the 12th round and he is a developmental success story thus far. Will Remillard could have been a nice late round catching prospect but I believe he's had 2 TJ surgeries. Poor kid.
    The 2nd and 4th round picks could be criticized. Rob Zastryzny was never a candidate to be anything more than a BOR guy, while Cody Reed (of the Reds) was another lefty who could pump it up to 95, but he was a JC project that didn't have a lot of consensus.
    In the 4th round we took Tyler Skulina when there was still Cody Bellinger on the board and that kid looks like a star at either first or in the outfield. But those are the only two guys that really stand out in each round.
    Overall, we easily had the best draft that year based solely on Bryant.
    2014 is when this FO really got rolling. Schwarber was a brilliant and gutsy pick who signed for way below slot which allowed us to pick up 3 borderline first round picks in the 4-6 round in Sands, Steele, and Cease. The 2nd and 3rd rounders were Stinnett and Zagunis. Zagunis is already a steal as he looks like a sure major leaguer despite probably being a LF only dude. The late round picks are also impressive. Ryan Williams, 2015 milb pitcher of the year for a 2k bonus in the 10th round and already in triple-A. Chesny Young (Hi-A batting champ), Jeremy Null (low A all-star last year), Jason Vosler, Brad Markey, Zach Hedges, and the lottery ticket that is Kevonte Mitchell.
    That's a top to bottom dominant draft, but all the big 3 HS pitchers will take time. You know you're dealing with a 5 year waiting period for them to develop.
    2015 was another clear win in my opinion.
    Happ is already a unilateral top 50 prospect, Dewees was a likely first rounder who lasted all the way to the second round and was a Low A all-star.
    Hudson in the 3rd round was a great pick but that's another 5 year ETA. The only pick you could question is DJ Wilson in the fourth round. You could say that the Brewers picked Demi Orimoloye (an athletic freak) in the 4th for right around slot money, which was 8 picks after Wilson. We could have scooped up D.O. and still paid Wilson his million over slot in the 5th.
    We killed the rest of the top 10 rounds with smart senior signings Craig Brooks, Preston Morrison, and Dave Berg. The late rounds were no different with Scott Effross, Casey Bloomquist, and inspired picks in PJ Higgins and Ian Rice.
    This is a really, really good track record despite the misses on Johnson (who still has a chance to be a nice reliever) and Blackburn, and keep in mind, there was nothing special out there that we passed on.
    The IFA classes of 2013 and 2015 have also been impressive. Jose Albertos was a pitching steal out of Mexico, but alas, it looks like he may be going the TJ route.

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    What impresses me about him is not the physical talent but his mental makeup. He seems exceptionally strong--to learn English, get his hs diploma, his leadership ability, etc. I believe that what separates good players (in any sport) from great players is that mental toughness. The ability to work out hour after hour, or every day between Olympics like Michael Phelps did. There is a great book about Magic Johnson and Larry Bird and how they worked so hard, and if they didn't they then knew the other one was so that spurred each on. Eloy seems like a special person and I can't wait to see how he matures both on and off the field.
    Great article John.

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    I've been thinking a lot lately of the structural differences between Cuba and the Dominican. Using Eloy and Jorge Soler has my templates. Because they share a similar style if not totally the same player. Both corner OF's with tremendous power potential and possibly limited defense. Soler came to the Cubs and an older age 19 and having to sit out a year with visa issues. Jimenez signed at 16 and was immediately immersed into the Cubs camp. He got lots of time working with the excellent minor league staff. And the results have been amazing, he is making amazing progress and he keeps getting better. Soler on the other hand has a steeper learning curve while having greater athletic ability. Then injuries have even lessened that time. I don't want to insult the baseball people on Cuba either, but seems like the coaching leaves something to be desired. Many of the Cuban players seem more unpolished like college players in America. Is it unfair of me to say that holds back Cuban players when they first reach the MLB level?

  • In reply to Sean Holland:

    I've lived many years in the Keys and Miami. The difference in people from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, etc. and Cuba is stark. I don't want to make any generalizations, but the people from other parts of the Caribbean have tasted at least some form of freedom. Often times, Cuban refugees are like a deer in headlights, trying to acclimate to a totally new world. Add the fact that they must risk life and limb to get here, and often owe large debts for "help", and I see the reason for the slower development time. I'm actually surprised many of them succeed as quickly as they do. I don't think I could in their situation, and I'm pretty adaptable to many circumstances.

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    In reply to BarleyPop:

    Exactly. Very well put. I am still surprised how quickly Cespedes acclimated and produced as well as stayed consistent switching from market to market in his short career.

  • If these guys make it and are ready in 2-3 years what do u do with everyone??? The majority of the starters we have now are super young. Be very interesting how Cubs balance it out.

  • How much of the regression in pitching development is due to the loss of Derek Johnson, or other coaching staff changes, rather than bad luck?

  • In reply to charactercounts:

    I don't know that there has been a regression in pitching development. Its not like guys were flying through the system when Johnson was here.

    Most of the issues this year are due to injury. Underwood, Johnson, Williams, de la Cruz, now Cease and Albertos.

    Stinnett has improved. Clifton has improved. The Eugene staff looks great. Zastryzny, Blackburn, Tseng, Leal, Hedges and Sands have continued to slowly progress.

    Really the only main pitching prospect that has been bad this year without injury playing a role seems to be Justin Steele.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Well we don't know that Cease is hurt. He was taken out after 82 pitches.

  • In reply to John57:

    He left the game after calling out the trainer and pointing to his shoulder. He's hurt. Hopefully nothing major

  • In reply to charactercounts:

    I've been on record here about Johnson's virtues. Love the guy's mechanical approach and conditioning approach to pitchers. Not sure about the new regime.

    Not liking our top arms going down. To lose a Cease, De La Cruz, and Undwrwood all in 1 season would be devastating to the system already bereft of TOR talent.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    I continued your thought with a long review of the Theo era drafts and semi defense of the development system but it's lost in the ether

  • In reply to ericccs:

    It showed up. lol. That was a very good look. Not much success on the pitching side. Still could be a tad early on a few drafts, but nothing is jumping off the page.

    I agree with you in the disappointment in Johnson and Blackburn. They should be contributors and they are more Dallas Beeler than MLB BOR types.

  • We enjoyed the power show he put on the day we saw you in ST. I couldn't handle curve balls from girls at 19!!!

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    In reply to edubbs:

    Ha! Well put.

  • In reply to edubbs:

    Haha! It's a tough game but Eloy seems to have much of it figured out already.

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    What is the 411 on Oscar DeLa Cruz? Did he have TJS or something? He's not throwing in AZ, if he doesn't start soon that will pretty much be the year for him....

  • John... This is a magnificent, riveting, remarkably interesting article on the development of a kid who came to our attention in 2011 when he was signed.

    I can only imagine the glee you must have felt watching him on the back fields in AZ. And, your history as a talent evaluator gives more credence to what you've written here.

    Thanks very much for another superb piece.

  • In reply to MoneyBoy:

    Well said moneyboy. Another hat tip to John as your words continue to paint a picture of individuals moving from boys to men and learning a craft we all know and love. John has fueled our passion and increased our knowledge in so many ways. We are blessed for you and your wife for sharing this awesome ride with us. GoCubsGo.

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    I was just watching the beginning of the AS game (to see our Cubs) and the commissioner has named the AL batting champ award as the "Rod Carew" award and the NL as the "Tony Gwynn" award. Dick Enberg was announcing and he made a mistake--he said Tony never hit below .309 in his career. Actually, he hit .289 his first year, after that it was all above .309. In his first 2 years Rod hit under .300 and after that all above.
    I have yet to find anyone with a career of 10 yrs+ who has always hit .300 or more. If anyone can find that player please let me know.
    thanks, and let the Cubs do well tonight. I did read that Jake might not pitch at all and I think that's wise.

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    Welcome back to SD Kris Bryant.......1-0 Cubs

    Come on NL pitchers.....we need you guys !

  • We have Kris Bryant!...And you have been made aware that you do not.

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    There goes Kris Bryants MVP........nice work Cueto

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    Now there goes Home field advantage

  • In reply to Jim Odirakallumkal:

    I'm just hoping for a quality start from someone other than Kyle Hendricks. We have a looooong way to go. I'm very scared of what's become of Arrieta. Very, very scared.

  • But best-case scenario, we sweep and clinch at Wrigley

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