White Sox reaffirm Eloy Jiménez as left fielder as defense remains a topic

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Vinnie Duber
·5 min read
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Sox reaffirm Eloy as left fielder as defense remains a topic originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Eloy Jiménez made his presence known at White Sox camp Monday, the first day of full-squad workouts at Camelback Ranch.

Not by blasting a ball a million miles, no. By being his typically ebullient self, screaming and shouting, smiling and waving, flashing peace signs and taking great joy in pointing out a certain writer's facial hair.

Every time you get a glimpse of Jiménez's personality, you never want him to change.

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But plenty of White Sox fans are hoping for a certain kind of change in Jiménez.

In his first media session since winning a Silver Slugger last fall — one where he raved about his team's chances in 2021, talked about crying when teammate José Abreu won the MVP and heaped praise on prospect Andrew Vaughn as "a really good human being" — it took mere seconds before his defense came up.

Jiménez's value as a hitter in the thick of the White Sox lineup is unquestioned. After the not unexpected feeling-out period during his first year in the majors, he was quietly (surprising, I know, considering that personality) one of the best hitters in baseball last season.

But the questions and complaints will keep coming as long as the misplays keep happening in left field. Last season, a couple plays come to mind: Jiménez upsettingly whacking his head on the outfield wall while trying to rob a grand slam and Jiménez comically tumbling into the netting in foul territory as the batted ball he misplayed down the left-field line went for an inside-the-park homer.

While plays like those should never be used to tell the entire story of Jiménez as a defender, they're also pretty tough to forget.

The White Sox, however, have no plans to do what so many Twitter managers have suggested and move Jiménez to DH.

"Eloy’s our left fielder. We view him as a left fielder," general manager Rick Hahn said, declaratively, during Monday's town hall as part of the team's "Sox Spring Break" series. "On one of our staff Zoom calls, we talked about not only the progress he’s made out there over the last two years but also the fact that Eloy really doesn’t like getting defensive subbed late in games.

"Now that didn’t stop Ricky (Renteria), and it’s not going to stop Tony (La Russa) from doing it when it’s in the best interest of the club winning a ballgame. But it is a motivator for Eloy to keep working. He doesn’t like that, he’s embarrassed by that. He wants to be out there when we’re winning ballgames late. He’s put in the work to earn that opportunity, and he’s someone we foresee as being out there.

“He certainly has the bat to handle the DH position. But from a maximizing-the-effect-of-our-roster standpoint, we’re probably better off with Eloy in left, assuming he continues to progress defensively the way we’ve seen and he continues to put in the work, and having a different bat in the DH spot."

That different bat is likely to be Vaughn, the organization's top ranked prospect who comes into camp as the favorite for those everyday at-bats after the White Sox opted not to bring in a veteran solution at the position for the third straight winter. Vaughn, who earns rave reviews from the team, swings a heck of a bat but doesn't play left field, hence Hahn's suggestion that the White Sox puzzle fits together best with Jiménez in the outfield, not at DH.

But even if Vaughn wasn't a part of the picture, Jiménez would have that same distaste for being taken out of the game for a defensive replacement. The constant attention on his defense can at times seem misguided when his bat seems to be on the verge of becoming one of the game's elite ones. But as long as it's there, he's going to use it to his advantage.

"That motivates me," he said Monday, "because you need to work for something, and I try to work hard for that. But I don't try to hear that a lot. I try to do my work and try to be better every day."

Jiménez can't be accused of not trying to improve, and certainly as long as Abreu is around, he'll continue to provide an example of exactly what an adherence to that daily work can get you: an MVP.

Jiménez isn't likely to be a Gold Glover in 2021, though he did say Monday that Gold Glove center fielder Luis Robert owes him for allowing the rookie to catch every ball hit to the outfield last season. But Jiménez, in his customarily confident fashion, did make a proclamation that should at the very least confirm to the skeptics his desire to keep improving.

"One day, I'm going to be the MVP," Jiménez said. "I don't know what year, but I think soon."

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