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.
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.
One 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.
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 deposit 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.
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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