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Recently, Eloy Jimenez visited the Chicago White Sox’s dugout and spoke with reporters.
“I truly believe that I can be playing here right now,” the 20-year-old said, per Colleen Kane of the Chicago Tribune.
The numbers back that up: Jimenez hit .312 with a .947 OPS and 19 home runs in 89 games between High-A and Double-A this season. The kid seems ready for The Show.
He’s also a talent the Windy City’s other franchise will regret giving away.
OK, “giving away” is unfair. The Cubs sent Jimenez—along with hard-throwing right-hander Dylan Cease and two other prospects—to the South Side in the swap that netted left-hander Jose Quintana. You’ve got to give something to get something.
Quintana is indeed something. The 28-year-old has eclipsed 200 innings in each of the last four seasons and is locked into an affordable contract that runs through 2020 with a pair of club options. He’s posted a mediocre 4.03 ERA with the Cubs, but that doesn’t make him a bad acquisition. Still, letting Jimenez go may haunt the defending champions.
Granted, the Cubs roster is littered with homegrown talent. Their outfield situation, however, is murky.
Left fielder Kyle Schwarber, whom the Cubs refused to trade at the 2016 deadline, according to 670 The Score’s Julie DiCaro (h/t NJ.com), is hitting a scant .207. Jason Heyward is an elite defensive player in right field but owns a ho-hum .700 OPS. Albert Almora Jr. is a fine ancillary piece, but far from a star.
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Of the team’s top 10 prospects, via MLB.com, only one plays the outfield, and that’s 24-year-old Mark Zagunis, who has intriguing on-base capabilities but is no one’s idea of a franchise building block.
Imagine if the Cubs had Jimenez waiting in the wings, ready to join a lineup fronted by the likes of Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, Willson Contreras, Ian Happ etc.
Jimenez made waves in March when he lit up the Cactus League and yours truly highlighted him as a phenom on the rise.
“Sky’s the limit,” Cubs vice-president of player development Jason McLeod said at the time, per Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago. “I think he’s someone who can sit in the middle of a lineup and wreak a lot of havoc on some pitching across the major leagues.”
A shoulder injury put a speed-bump in Jimenez’s path, but after raking across two minor league levels, he’s on the express lane to MLB success.
“I think his skill set is evident,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said, per Vinnie Duber of CSN Chicago. “I think, obviously, every level brings its own challenges, even coming to the big leagues will bring its own challenges. But I think if he continues to maintain the consistency in which he’s going about doing what he’s doing, there’s no reason why he’s not going to continue to want to push that door open as soon as possible.”
If and when he does, he’ll be pushing it open as a member of the Sox, not the Cubs.
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That doesn’t doom the Cubbies. Again, they’ve got burgeoning talent on the 25-man roster and, despite an uneven season and persistent challenges from the pesky St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers, they’re poised for another October run.
Quintana may prove to be a valuable asset, especially if ace Jake Arrieta bolts this winter via free agency. It’s unfair to call this trade a bust just yet.
The fact remains, however, that the Cubs and executive Theo Epstein cashed in a blue-chip prospect who plays the outfield, which looks like an area of need for the club now and going forward.
There’s a plausible scenario where Jimenez is a star in a couple of years, and the Cubs are kicking themselves for coughing him up.
“This kid’s a major league hitter,” White Sox amateur scouting director Nick Hostetler told Matt Spiegel and Danny Parkins on 670 The Score (via CBS Chicago). “You can see it in his approach, the way he takes at-bats, he takes pitches, his strength. Offensively, there’s not anything he can’t do.”
Well, there is one thing—and that’s contribute to the Cubs.
All statistics current as of Tuesday and courtesy of Baseball-Reference.