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Eloy's goals: MVP, 40 homers — and health for playoff run originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Eloy Jiménez called Michael Kopech "the Nolan Ryan of this generation" and Luis Robert "the next Mike Trout."
But he's got some lofty expectations for himself, too. Earlier this spring, he said, "I think one day, I'm going to be the MVP."
He's well on his way to showing he can put up the kinds of numbers that reel in that hardware. The White Sox slugger is fresh off what was quietly one of the best offensive seasons in the American League during the COVID-shortened 2020 season. He hit .296/.332/.559 with 14 home runs and 41 RBIs, winning a Silver Slugger for his efforts.
So, with what's planned to be a full 162-game schedule on deck for 2021, Jiménez is letting folks in on some of his personal expectations. Appearing on the White Sox Talk Podcast, he was asked how many home runs he could hit in a season.
"You know, if I'm healthy and play every single day, 40-plus," he said. "I hit 31 homers in 122 games (during his rookie year in 2019), so with 40 more (games), I can hit 40 or more (home runs).
"But I'm not focused on that, I'm focused more on my average. If my average is there, the homers are going to be there."
So how high can his batting average get?
"Over .300 or .310," he said.
White Sox hitting coach Frank Menechino has even higher plateaus in mind for Jiménez, envisioning him as a potential .340 hitter. A batting average that big could challenge teammate Tim Anderson, who won a batting title with a .335 mark in 2019, for the top spot in the league.
"Why not?" Jiménez said. "I've done it before. I've hit over .310 before, so why not?
"I'm trying to figure it out first, little things. And after I put it all together, I can be better at the plate. And last year I was so much better than my first year. So for me, it's getting better every year, getting better and better and better.
"I feel more comfortable at the plate, more Eloy. Before, it was a struggle, a little bit, but now I feel my comfort is back, completely back."
That's music to White Sox fans' ears, of course, as Jiménez is expected to keep improving in the middle of a lineup that was already the AL's most powerful a season ago. A stacked batting order, top-to-bottom, is part of what makes the South Siders one of the favorites to win the pennant this season. And Jiménez could play one of the starring roles.
But that's where we arrive at what might be Jiménez's top priority this year.
He couldn't play a starring role for the White Sox last fall, when a foot injury knocked him out of the first two games of the franchise's first postseason series in a dozen years. He was able to get a couple at-bats in Game 3 of the AL Wild Card Series against the Oakland Athletics but exited early from the White Sox final game of the season.
The inability to play devastated him.
"I called my mom and my dad and I was crying because it was my first playoffs and I just had two at-bats at the end of the series. It was hard. Especially when my teammates needed me, that was really bad for me, that hurt a lot," Jiménez said. "It wasn't my fault. I tried to play hard for my team, and I got hurt playing hard. But it was hard.
"I was completely gone, I was crying, because in the majors you play to make the playoffs, and the time you are there, you want to play. So sitting out, for me, was bad, it was hurting. It was really bad.
"At the same time, it was good because I was supporting my teammates. I was there for them. ... You could see, the last game, I wasn't supposed to play, but I played because I wanted to help my team, no matter how I felt. That's the player I am. I want to be there for my teammates, I want to be there for the fans. I want to play hard for nine innings. That's me.
"You could see in interviews that I was sad and all that. But now, I feel good. I think we're going to make it (back to the postseason), and I think I'm going to play. It's going to be fine."
Indeed, it might have been a different series, a different outcome, had the White Sox had their middle-of-the-order bat fully healthy. Instead, Jiménez and the White Sox are left feeling motivated for 2021 after getting to playoff baseball and bowing out so quickly.
"We tasted it. And it's good," Jiménez said. "Now, you taste one, you want to be available to taste more. This year's going to be fun."
So the 40 homers, the mid-.300s batting average, the MVP, that's all well and good.
But much like the guy who's already won an MVP, White Sox team leader José Abreu, the team goal is Jiménez's most important one.
"Like everybody saw last year, we have the caliber to compete against high level teams. And this year, it's a much better team than last year. That's why I think we can do something," he said. "People can talk about all they want, but I think we have the team that we need to have to make the playoffs and, after that, compete for more."
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