When the Chicago White Sox acquired Eloy Jimenez nearly five years ago, most of us within the fan base believed we were getting a middle-of-the-order impact bat that would be a centerpiece for the next great Sox core. Since making the MLB club out of Spring Training in 2019, the results have been a mixed bag as we’ve seen two sides to Eloy. On one hand, he has served as an impactful bat that has shown power to all fields. Conversely, Jimenez has been a wildly inconsistent hitter who isn’t driving the baseball with enough authority to strike fear in opposing pitchers.
The lone constant for Jimenez has been his inability to stay on the field to get into any significant groove. It’s often been said that availability is, perhaps, the most important ability for a professional athlete. Unfortunately, Eloy has been unable to answer the bell far too often. In a year where the White Sox offense has been largely dormant, the return of the power-hitting version of Jimenez could be just the thing that gets this team back in the AL Central race.
The White Sox expect Eloy to return to MLB action in the coming days, but which version of him will they see?
A Tale of Two Hitters
Eloy Jimenez has played parts of four seasons for the Chicago White Sox, never amassing more than 504 plate appearances (although 2020 wasn’t his fault). Through the 2020 season, the young Dominican showed the elite raw power that made scouts gush over his physical tools and drove the belief that he would be a leading run producer across the entire league.
However, since March 2021 Eloy has not been the same hitter. Yes, he has suffered injuries that have cost him significant development time. But when he has been in the box, he simply hasn’t been the force that he was previously. I’m old enough to remember telling everyone that I believed he would be the first White Sox player to eclipse the 50-home run plateau in a single season. I’m less confident in that assertion now than I have ever been, unfortunately.
It’s entirely possible that it’s merely an injury-plagued small sample size that has impacted the joyful outfielder, but it’s hard to argue that we aren’t seeing the same hitter we did through his first two seasons.
Eloy has now stepped into a Major League batter’s box an even 1,000 times. Through 730 PAs (roughly a full season’s worth), he looked like the next great South Side slugger. His defensive adventures were “tolerable” in the same vein of a Manny Ramirez because he was impacting the baseball with the bat. For a young player like Jimenez, there was still upside growth that gave many of us reason to dream that he would be one of the top sluggers in baseball.
However, the last two seasons just haven’t yielded the same quality offensive output. He has been a tick below league average in terms of overall production, but the most troubling aspect of his offensive profile has been the deterioration of his power. He’s seen over 100 points fall of his Slugging % since the beginning of the 2021 season. However, one has to wonder if the severe injuries he has dealt with have been the leading culprit of that power evaporation.
Simply put, Eloy’s game isn’t well-rounded enough for him to not be a prolific slugger. His defense is questionable, at best, and damaging at worst. If he isn’t going to strike fear in the hearts of opposing pitchers, we are looking at a player that simply will not be anywhere near as impactful as we all hoped when he was acquired.
270 PAs isn’t a huge sample size, I know, but there are some troubling things we’ve seen from Eloy Jimenez in the last two seasons. Most notably is his ability to generate loft with his swing, which allows his prodigious power to display itself. Through the 2020 season, Eloy had a 28.3% HR/FB rate, but that number has cratered to 20.8% since his 2021 return.
Is this merely a function of a player working his way back from a significant injury that impacted his swing? I’m not smart enough to know the answer to that question, however, I do know that this is one thing that must be addressed in short order. His recent rehab stint in the hitter’s paradise that is Triple-A Charlotte was not particularly encouraging.
Since joining the Knights, Eloy was giving Triple-A infielders a workout to the tune of a 66.7% GB rate. Is he merely just trying to get his legs back under him? Perhaps. There are also some changes to his swing mechanics, most notably a far less pronounced leg kick.
Now, Eloy has homered twice in his last five games, so it’s entirely possible he has regained strength in his lower half to generate more loft with his swing. Only time will tell. But it certainly will be important to monitor upon his return to the White Sox how much he is able to lift the baseball.
Given the wild variability in Eloy Jimenez’s performance since joining the Chicago White Sox, I think the fan base must temper enthusiasm for his return. He should not be looked at as the cure for an ailing White Sox offense. Yes, he is still a young player that is hardly a finished product, but his return shouldn’t be looked at as the catalyst to start a second-half run for the White Sox.
The truth is, we really don’t know which Eloy we will be getting and more importantly for how long. How Tony La Russa chooses to play musical chairs with Jimenez, Andrew Vaughn, Gavin Sheets, and AJ Pollock will be an interesting thing to watch unfold in the coming weeks. The hope is that a fully healthy Eloy can return to the run producer he was through the 2020 season. But unfortunately, that is far from a sure thing at this point.
One thing that is for sure though, is the Chicago White Sox need power in their lineup. And it would be great if Eloy Jimenez could help to provide it.
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