Silver & Black Linings Part 2 – The Legend Of Eloy

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Chicago White Sox's Eloy Jimenez is greeted by fans during the baseball team's convention Friday, Jan. 26, 2018, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

I was kinda hoping my last post mentioning the Sox historically bad start would magically bring about a nice little run. Not so much. They’re still horrible. I’m still dialed in, watching Renteria and seeing how all these guys are positioning themselves for the future. But even the Sox themselves would tell you they’re not playing their best baseball.

Heck, I liked seeing Shields (who’s suddenly become one of the few guys doing his job) getting pissed after his last start, talking about how it’s still about winning games and they’re not winning games like they need to, rebuild or not.

Refreshing, absolutely. And it’s encouraging to remember this is basically the same roster that played very respectable ball after the trade deadline last season. But still – best case this year is not being historically bad, so we’re going to have to keep looking for our Sox optimism elsewhere.

And that of course means prospects! And they just have so many to be excited about. I mean we could even get into a debate about whether the pitcher or outfield pool provides more impressive upside. Imagine that just two years ago.

But let’s instead just celebrate the fact that both are pretty exciting and encouraging to read about, and kick things off with our outfielders. Maybe save the pitchers for after we run through the still interesting but less titillating collection of catchers and infielders.

Because I fear we’re going to need a lot of encouraging minor league news to mix with the continued challenges we’ll see out of the big league club the rest of the way. That’ll happen when the big Sox highlight of the last week was that some guy who hasn’t been a real prospect since a devastating injury in 2014 made his triumphant major league debut with a dinger.

History will little note nor long remember his name (Mike?), but in this season he’s somehow warranted multiple Sox-related headlines. God bless him – it’s a great story. But I need something more to hold me over… so let’s take a look at our outfield prospect pool!

Today’s post is about just one guy, because he really is a singular talent. That’s our #1 hitting prospect, with a bullet, Eloy. Technically his last name is Jimenez, but that’s like saying technically Madonna’s last name is Ciccone. It’s not a piece of information you’re going to need to follow what he’s up to.

I’ll start by saying that few things are more annoying than the way Cub fans get all worked up about their uber-prospects. Back in the day it was actually enjoyable, because you just knew that Corey Patterson or Felix Pie or Rich Hill were gonna disappoint. And then they did! But not before the Cubs blew a title chance by refusing to part with this invaluable future building block. Ha – the good ol’ days!

Now it’s the opposite. Not only have Bryant, Schwarber, Baez, Contreras, Almora, Happ, and more all proven to be capable to All-Star level players (and let’s be honest – calling Bryant just All-Star level is selling him short), but even the guys the Cubs have jettisoned are raking.

Remember Soler? Guy has an OBA up over .360 w/ a slugging percentage not too far from .500 for the Royals. Gleybar Torres, the blood money spent for Aroldis Chapman, has been up a month and already looks like a superstar. Even players that weren’t hyped – like Candelario, the Tigers 3B we’re going to hate seeing for the next decade – are producing.

So I cannot tell you how nice it is to have Eloy in our back pocket for when Cub fans get a little too cocky about their talent pool. I have a lot less problem with their bowing at the altar of Theo’s development skills because we too have profited from them. We’re talking the type of hitter you drop whatever you’re doing to see his next at-bat.

That’s what Eloy, at all of 21-years old, already is. He’s had around 350 plate appearances in our org so far, and he’s hitting about .340 w/ a .600 SLG. Those numbers are just plain silly… even more so when you realize he’s actually improved at each step so far with the Sox.

Yet those numbers don’t do him justice.

Maybe you’ve heard the stories of Eloy breaking light stanchions in the outfield with some of his bombs. Prior to coming over to the Sox, he was the talk of the All-Star Break Future’s Game with his prodigious power and electric play.

My favorite Eloy highlight was a home run clip of the guys in the field not even moving when the ball was hit. Now it’s not uncommon for the fielders not to react – impressive, but it’ll happen on a no-doubter. But in this highlight, even the runner out on the base path at second, who should be so locked in to move with contact, just stood glued to the ball like every other fan!

His teammates treat him like a living legend. There’s certainly an exciting collective bond and energy coming off this entire group of prospects at all levels. But with Eloy it’s different. He’s their guy, the coattails everyone else is excited to be riding, even for the other legit prospects.

That tells me a lot. Success in sports isn’t just about athleticism or skill. At the highest levels, there’s something mental, emotional even. It’s not any one thing and it’s different for each guy, but being a magnetic force that your teammates hold in awe is part of why I’m very, very confident that Eloy will continue to be an offensive machine.

He’s clearly got unreal power, but he’s also showing an impressive hit tool with those repeated .340-type averages. Especially with the way the bigs are going, with so few hitters coming up who can do it all, so many who strike out all the time and can’t hold a steady average. Against that backdrop, it’s been real nice that Eloy is showing he can load up on base hits as easily as bombs.

I’ve also been impressed that the returns on his defense have been respectable. Eloy’s no Gold Glover, but he’s also not a problem out there. And yes, that should be the minimum you can say about a 21-year old athletic freak, but it’s still nice to have reports that Eloy will be a perfectly serviceable glove while he’s destroying big league hitting for the next 15 years.

Now the only question is when. There is absolutely nothing between Eloy and the bigs right now, in terms of established major league talent. Sure Avi will eventually get healthy and be given until deep into next season to prove his 2017 performance wasn’t a fluke. But that only accounts for one of the corner OF slots. No one else can hope to flash the combination of glove and bat necessary to give the front office even a hint of pause when they believe Eloy is ready.

But when will they believe that? He’s only just now hitting the 250-plate appearance mark at AA. Though the Sox promoted him from high A after only 300 times up, so maybe another minor league jump is getting near.

And once he’s in AAA, if Eloy is still hitting over .300 with plus plus power, you’re just not going to be able to realistically keep him down. Sure there are very important team control issues at play, but do the Sox actually believe they can keep him in the minors until a few weeks into next season?

I’m no collective bargaining expert, but that’s my understanding of the key dates for cost and contract control. Either they bring Eloy up some time in the second half (after the “Super 2” deadline has safely passed, à la Moncada last year) or wait until mid-April next year (à la Bryant for the Cubs).

I can’t imagine they plan on establishing a possibly morale-hurting precedent with their prospects that dominant play won’t be valued over cost savings, forcing Eloy to just kill time in the minors until three weeks into next season.

Instead, it seems like a continued healthy, productive trajectory for Eloy will have him on the Southside sometime late this year. After the pressure of the season has died down, after he’s shown himself dominant at AAA.

And that’s something to brighten even these darkest days of 2018.

Brian Pollina is a second generation White Sox fan proudly raising a third generation on the North Side.  When not busy trying to get a Sox Mt. Rushmore of Big Frank, Harold, Uribe, and Don Cooper commissioned, he works in the radio industry.

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