More than a mammoth home run: We're starting to see what Eloy Jimenez can be

Vinnie Duber
NBC Sports Chicago

More than a mammoth home run: We're starting to see what Eloy Jimenez can be originally appeared on nbcsportschicago.com

If the 462-foot home run that finally touched down on the stairs leading up to the Fan Deck in center field ends up being the moment when Eloy Jimenez flipped the switch and turned into one of Major League Baseball's great hitters, that will be terrific news for the White Sox and the planned opening of their contention window.

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And it will give Jimenez good reason to do what he promised and stare at the ball every night.

In all likelihood, it will be a much more gradual process, Jimenez's elevation from rookie trying to figure out the big leagues to the superstar in the making White Sox fans have been drooling over since he was acquired in the Jose Quintana trade two summers ago.

But those same fans - and the White Sox organization with them - were able to dream Tuesday night, when Jimenez launched that moonshot into the South Side sky, a ball so crushed it looked like it might land on the Dan Ryan.

Jimenez, of course, still has the projection of being one of the greats, even if the first two and a half months of his major league career haven't been the Kool-Aid Man crash through the wall that some expected. Even after a 2-for-3 night with a double, a homer, a walk, three runs scored and a pair of RBIs in Tuesday's win over the visiting Washington Nationals, Jimenez owned a .239/.289/.452 slash line with nine homers and 19 RBIs. He's playing a less-than-graceful left field. He's got 48 strikeouts and 10 walks.

The guy is a work in progress, and general manager Rick Hahn will tell you that Jimenez and the rest of these young White Sox aren't finished products. The expectations are sky high for Jimenez, but the reality is that he's still developing. He's just 22, even if Jose Abreu told him there's no way he's 22 if he's blasting balls as far as he did Tuesday.

But amid the ongoing development, we're seeing the signs of what earned these expectations in the first place. We're seeing clues and examples of what the finished product might look like, what kind of player Jimenez might be when he's the centerpiece of a winning team and not a team on its way to becoming a winning team.

"Guys that have a lot of talent kind of grow exponentially," manager Rick Renteria said after the game. "He's just scratching (the surface of what he can be). He put together some pretty good at-bats today. Hopefully it will just continue.

"I think he's adjusting, he's learning, he's continuing to see what guys are trying to do to him. He's laying off some tough pitches. ... He's going to be pretty good besides the long ball. He put some pretty good swings on pitches. He's going to be all right."

Before he hit a ball halfway to Whiting, Jimenez drew a walk in the first inning. The kind of thing that he did plenty in the minors last year - enough to get him a .399 on-base percentage at Triple-A Charlotte - came after Jimenez fell behind in the count 1-2 against Patrick Corbin. He walked to load the bases, setting up Welington Castillo's grand slam three pitches later. The White Sox had a four-run lead, yeah, because Castillo hit a ball over the fence. But the two-out walk put another duck on the pond and kept the inning alive.

In the at-bat after Jimenez's homer, he smacked a ball up the middle. It looked like a surefire single, one that easily scored James McCann from third base, but Jimenez busted it around first base and slid into second for a hustle double. Jimenez is a big fella, as White Sox fans are well aware, and it takes some work for that body to make it to second on a hustle double. He did it.

And Jimenez deserves some credit, too, for making a sliding catch in left field. Again, it wasn't the most graceful piece of fielding you'll ever see, but it was a successful play, one perhaps owed to the daily outfield work Jimenez puts in with outfield coach Daryl Boston.

All of these things are what made Jimenez one of the highest rated prospects in baseball. He's graduated from prospect status now, but that doesn't mean his development is complete. We'll see more and more of these examples and one day we'll look up and Jimenez will be that fully formed player, years down the road.

So much of the conversation surrounding this White Sox team has dealt with the positive signs for the future, the All-Star caliber play of guys like Lucas Giolito, Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada and James McCann. Jimenez hasn't been a part of those conversations, the lone (and important) positive surrounding him simply being that he's here at the major league level.

But what if that's starting to change? In his last 11 games, Jimenez has a .333/.381/.667 slash line with four doubles, three homers and eight RBIs. If he can join that group of players we've been talking about all season, that makes the White Sox future that much brighter.

"I know I'm getting better, and that is pretty much one of the best games," Jimenez said Tuesday night. "But there are more to come."

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