Congratulations to all Sox fans: Eloy is back. After missing 10 games with a left adductor strain, he is risen from the disabled list and returned to the field of play. So far, he is 6-17 in three games since then, with two doubles and a home run. Overall on the season, Jimenez is hitting .309/.364/.540 with 13 home runs and 18 doubles, and has drawn 23 walks to 46 strikeouts.
Basically, he is ready for a higher league, of which there is just one. This isn’t new, so I won’t get into my views about years of control and how every major league team can easily afford to pay any player what they deserve so it shouldn’t even be an issue and keeping insanely talented young players in the minors is bad for the game (oops; read more here). What I will do, however, is look at the lack of precedent there is for such a highly-regarded position player prospect in the White Sox system, specifically at the AAA level.
It’s common for exciting high-round draft picks to play in the low minors during the beginnings of their careers when they haven’t yet failed to live up to expectation, and much more common for those same draft picks to either never make it to the Charlotte Knights at all or to make it there after the hype is already gone. Jared Mitchell is probably the most recent example; Courtney Hawkins never made it past Birmingham. The Sox are much better at picking and/or developing pitchers, so they have had recent success with Zack Burdi, Carlos Rodon, and, of course, Chris Sale, the latter two of whom actually spent little time in the minors overall. When it comes to hitters, however, the track record is… spotty.
So it’s unusual and exciting that a player as good as Jimenez is supposed to be is still good at the highest level of the minors. You can see a list of his accolades here – to sum it up, he’s a consensus elite prospect, ranked between #6 and #4 in all of baseball by publications like Baseball Prospectus, Baseball America, and MLB Pipeline. Have the White Sox ever had a player like this in the system? It’s been a long time, if ever.
Tim Anderson, the first player drafted after the Sox shifted their philosophy away from athletic college football players, was also the first top prospect in years to not crater upon reaching the higher levels of the minors. In 55 games in his one season with the Knights (2016), he hit .304/.325/.409, with 4 dongs, 16 extra-base hits total, 8 walks, and 58 strikeouts. Anderson was never an elite prospect, but did hang out in the top 50. Even if he wasn’t at the same level as Eloy, it’s impossible to say that he was or is currently a bust.
A name that you may have forgotten about, as I do every time I’m not actively looking at his stats page, is Dayan Viciedo. Viciedo was considered a top international prospect at the time of his signing in 2008. He didn’t play until 2009 and didn’t make the Knights until 2010, which was the same year he made his major-league debut. He spent parts of four seasons in Charlotte (most recently 2015), performing well enough to ignite hope, but not necessarily hype. His best season came in 2011, when he played in 119 AAA games, hitting .296/.364/.491, socking 20 home runs and 28 doubles and maintaining a reasonable 1.84 K/BB ratio (83 to 45). Again, this was a good season by a reasonably-well-regarded prospect, but Viciedo’s 2011 is outperformed both in expectations and delivery by Jimenez this year.
Eight-overall draft pick Gordon Beckham, drafted in 2008, played in seven games for the Knights in 2009 before getting called up to the Sox, where he had a decent but not great year. He hit insanely well in those seven games – .464/.448/.679 – and had performed well in limited minor league time prior. While the excitement (and subsequent disappointment) around Beckham was sizable among Sox fans, he was never considered to be the top prospect Jimenez is.
There have been several other big hopes – Brian Anderson, Ryan Sweeney, Danny Richar, even Aaron Rowand. Some of them did well at the AAA level, and Rowand had a fairly successful career. None of them were can’t-miss prospects.
Carlos Lee comes closer, with a dominant 25-game stint in Charlotte in 1999. He was a top-30 prospect, and hit .351/.396/.532 with 8 walks to 14 strikeouts in his limited time there. Lee was called up in May of 1999 and never looked back. He was 23 years old. It could be argued that Lee actually could have been moved along faster, as he spent full seasons at both A+ and AA and was not apparently challenged in either. This sounds familiar!
Mike Cameron, hovering around the same prospect level as Lee, had a similar performance for the then-Sox-affiliated Nashville Sounds in 1997, although not quite as dominant. Magglio Ordonez, who wasn’t regarded as highly, was also on that team and had a better year than Cameron. Ray Durham’s 1994 with the Sounds is on the same list – at 22 years old, he hit .296/.363/.495 in 133 games. He did not make his major league debut until the next season.
As an honorable mention, Frank Thomas was ranked a little lower but had a similar performance to the numbers Eloy is putting up. He also was called up during his AA season, as Eloy probably could have been.
So the Sox farm system throughout the years has had its failures and inadequacies, but it’s also produced a handful of truly good position players and even a couple great ones. As far as I can tell, there’s never been a prospect ranked as highly as Jimenez in the system, although a few that come close – like Thomas – match him in performance. All in all, if Eloy’s Major League career measures up to players like Cameron, Lee, and Ordonez, that’ll be just fine with me. Could he do even better? I think he could. But there’s only one way to find out.
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