By Dan Hayes | August 14, 2017 | CSN Chicago
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Had the Jose Quintana trade never happened, the Winston-Salem Dash would have faced Eloy Jimenez on Monday night instead of playing alongside him.
The Dash hosted Myrtle Beach, the Cubs Advanced-A affiliate in the opener of a five-game series at BB&T Ballpark on Monday. Jimenez, 20, played 42 games for the Pelicans before the White Sox acquired him as part of a four-player package on July 13.
Given how he’s swinging the bat right now, most White Sox pitchers said they aren’t certain how they would have attacked Jimenez, who on Monday was named the Carolina League player of the week.
Their scouting report: Pitch him in, he’s going to beat you. Pitch him away, good luck. But Dash catcher Zack Collins knows how he’d try to tame Jimenez, who has been otherworldly since his arrival in the White Sox organization.
“We have this rule in baseball, four pitches and you can intentionally walk him,” Collins said. “That’s about all I would do is walk him every time. He’s unreal right now and obviously locked in. He’s a great hitter and hits the ball to all fields, so there’s really nothing you can pitch him.”
Carolina League pitchers would appear to be in line for a well-earned break. It’s expected Jimenez will soon be promoted to Double-A Birmingham.
Since he joined the White Sox, Jimenez was hitting .362/.427/.714 with 11 doubles, eight home runs and 26 RBIs through Sunday. But it’s the way he’s gone about it that has captured his teammates’ attention.
Jimenez — who finished 0-for-5 in Monday’s 5-3 loss to the Pelicans — blasted at least 850 feet worth of homers on Saturday night, including one over the American flag in left-center. He had a 5-for-6 game last month and there’s the home run he predicted he’d hit, a forecast that pitcher Ian Clarkin captured on his phone.
“I wasn’t surprised at all,” Clarkin said. “I talked to him before and said, ‘What do you got for me today, Eloy?’ ‘I’m going to hit a home run today.’ ‘All right, I’m going to quote you on that.’ “So we took a video of him saying I’m going to hit a home run today.
“First pitch (of his last at-bat), absolute missile and I wasn’t surprised at all. I wouldn’t lie to you, Eloy is so good. It’s so exciting to watch. You can pretty much predict he’s going to do something unbelievable.”
Jimenez is the same player who has twice struck the light standard, once in batting practice and another time in a home run derby. He also blasted a three-run homer and made a jaw-dropping catch at the wall in the 2016 Futures Game. One major league scout attending Monday’s game said Jimenez is one of the top-10 talents he’s seen in 30-plus years in baseball.
But manager Willie Harris insists its far more than production and outstanding plays that captivates everyone.
“Ever since he’s been here it’s been very exciting to come to the ballpark and see what he’s going to do next,” Harris said. “He’s just an impressive young man, not just on the field but in the clubhouse too. He’s one of the leaders.”
Said pitcher Dane Dunning: “He’s a big team guy. He goes out and plays with heart and plays hard. He brings a good environment to the team in the dugout. It’s fun to watch.”
Jimenez said the reception he has received from teammates since he his arrival has been critical to his success. He also tries to bring the same upbeat, energetic personality to the clubhouse everyday no matter how he performs.
“This feels amazing right now,” Jimenez said. “Feels pretty good at the plate and my teammates, they support me a lot. That is a good way for me to take advantage and do whatever I need to do.
“Amazing. Good. Positive. Everybody. They try to do good and they stay positive.
“My teammates support me and I support them.”
Jimenez said his favorite hitters to watch growing up were Manny Ramirez and Miguel Cabrera. He likes how both used the entire field and hopes to model himself after the demeanor each had in critical at-bats.
“Focus when they have the game in their hands and they don’t try to do too much,” Jimenez said. “They stay with the same plan and focus on the game. That’s what I try to do.
“Try to put the ball in play, have good at-bats and put a good swing on it.”
But it’s not just good swings that make Jimenez a success. His manager is impressed with Jimenez’s ability to identify the other team’s approach to him and how he can change his own on the fly.
“He figures out how pitchers are trying to get him out and he figures out his approach from there,” Harris said. “He fixes things it takes most kids a little longer to fix.”
Dunning isn’t sure there’s a solution to the problem he’s tried to work out since Jimenez arrived. The righty spent Monday night in the press box at BB&T Park charting pitches and thinking how he’d approach every hitter in the lineup.
It’s something he always does. Dunning said before the game he’s glad he no longer has to prepare to face Jimenez.
“He’s an incredibly tough person to pitch,” Dunning said. “When Eloy comes up to bat it’s like, I could try to get him inside and bam he hits a home run on a fastball in. You’re like, alright, maybe slider away and its bam double in the gap slider away. It’s just like everything I think of he can hit. He’s one of those kids who sees the ball real well and he’s able to put good swings on them so it’s more or less that you get lucky.”