Kris Bryant. Kyle Schwarber. Addison Russell. Albert Almora. Now, Willson Contreras. The Chicago Cubs have not been short on providing Major League Baseball with some of the most exciting young bats in the game over the past two seasons.
While their top two offensive prospects, Ian Happ and Gleyber Torres, continue to rake, Eloy Jimenez is making a lot of noise in South Bend. Earning Midwest League All-Star honors (he’ll also compete in the Home Run Derby) and being tabbed the Cubs Prospect of the Month of May, Jimenez may turn out to be the next big thing in Chicago.
Jimenez was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2013 for $2.8 million in the same international signing class as Torres. Torres may have developed more quickly, already performing well in High-A ball, but while it may appear the Jimenez is still a bit behind, what he has shown — including returning home to graduate from his high school in the Dominican Republic — is that he has the head and makeup to succeed.
The 6-foot-4, 200-pound right-handed hitting outfielder struggled mightily in his Arizona Rookie League debut, leaving many to think he may be overmatched stateside. Keep in mind that Jimenez was merely a 17-year-old at the time.
Still, the concerns were present as Jimenez looked lost chasing bad pitches and striking out nearly 20 percent of the time in just 196 plate appearances. He slashed an ugly .227/.268/.367 with three home runs. Most discouraging was that Jimenez posted a .197 batting average in the second half, appearing to worsen as the season progressed.
He made huge strides in his sophomore campaign in short-season Eugene. He slashed .284/.328/.418 with seven home runs. He improved his strikeout rate (down to 17 percent, striking out 43 times in 250 plate appearances) while continuing to walk at his same career-rate of six percent. The improvement was seen not just statistically, but in his mechanics. Still very much a free swinger, he cut down on the careless swings and was able to make better contact.
Jimenez has broken out in a big way in 2016, showing what he has since day one: constant improvement. He currently leads the Midwest League in doubles (22), slugging percentage (.525) and total bases (134) while putting together a monster first half. He is batting .337 and growing into his power frame with a career-best eight home runs already.
Has he been a bit lucky this season, behind a .417 BABIP? Maybe, but clearly he has improved his contact despite seeing his strikeout rate rise to a career-worst 23 percent (62 strikeouts in 274 plate appearances). He has a unique batting approach, standing deep in the batter’s box, with his legs wide and open, stepping at the pitch. His swing is mechanically sound as he rips through the strike zone, which means much of his strikeout problem comes from discipline as opposed to a glaring hole in his swing.
There’s more to read and see (that means video!) on Jimenez. For my full article, head on over to Today’s Knuckleball by clicking on the link below.