State of the White Sox: Left field


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The 2019 season is over, and the White Sox — who have been focusing on the future for quite some time now — are faced with an important offseason, one that could set up a 2020 campaign with hopes of playoff contention.

With the postseason in swing and a little bit still before the hot stove starts cooking, let’s take a position-by-position look at where the White Sox stand, what they’re looking to accomplish this winter and what we expect to see in 2020 and beyond.

We’re moving on to left field.

What happened in 2019

After all the service-time talk, Eloy Jimenez made his debut with the big league team on Opening Day, the product of a multi-year contract the White Sox worked out with him during spring training. Jimenez’s rookie season was a strong one, one that will land him high in the AL Rookie of the Year vote, but it wasn’t without the growing pains that aren’t exactly unexpected for a guy getting his first taste of the major leagues.

The good: Jimenez blasted 31 home runs, the third most by a rookie in team history. His power was frequently on display, sending balls out to dead center and routinely disturbing the foliage on the batter’s eye. His most majestic long ball of the season touched down on the stairs leading up to the Fan Deck. And of course he lifted the White Sox to a Crosstown victory over the Cubs with a game-winning, broken-bat dinger in his first game against the team that dealt him away in 2017 — perhaps the most thrilling moment of the White Sox rebuild to date.

Jimenez also impressed alongside core pieces Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson with a white-hot final month of the season, slashing .340/.383/.710 with nine homers, eight doubles, 25 RBIs and 19 runs scored. Jose Abreu declared that the 2020 season started in September, and Jimenez was one of a few guys who backed those words up.

The less than good: Jimenez’s final averages were nothing special. He finished the season with a .267/.315/.513 slash line. While those aren’t horrendous by any stretch, they’re probably not close to what fans, the team or Jimenez himself expect from a guy billed as a long-term middle-of-the-order bat.

Now, some of that can be blamed on a pair of injuries that sent Jimenez to the injured list for extended periods of time. The first came when he attempted to rob a surefire home run, spraining his ankle when he planted his leg into the left-field wall at Guaranteed Rate Field. In the second half, he crashed into Charlie Tilson in the outfield in Kansas City, suffering an ulnar nerve contusion. Those IL stints halted some of Jimenez’s in-season momentum and prevented him from playing in a full schedule. He finished the year with 122 games played.

Jimenez also had a mixed bag of a season defensively. Early on, there were plenty of ugly plays in left, including the one on which he suffered that sprained ankle. Communication with infielders ranging back for pop ups proved a repeated issue, and he rarely looked graceful on what might have been considered routine plays. But those issues did improve as the season went on, as manager Rick Renteria kept hammering home. At the very least they happened with much less frequency.

But in general, Jimenez’s rookie season put his potential on display and sent fans dreaming about those lineups of the future with him very much an integral part.

What will happen this offseason

With right field, designated hitter and starting pitching on the offseason to-do list, the White Sox are in no way going to be looking to shuffle things around in left field. But the question remains, regardless of its validity, about whether or not Jimenez is going to spend his career in left.

Those defensive moments that seemed glaring at times during his rookie season were enough to spark conversations about whether Jimenez would end up moving away from left, to first base or DH or wherever. The White Sox, for their part, seem to have no desire to move Jimenez in the foreseeable future, and everyone should expect him to be the guy in left.

“He's too young for me to view him as a DH, to be honest,” Renteria said when Jimenez came off the injured list at the end of July. “And I think he's shown so much improvement in the outfield that it would be, I think, derelict on my part and on our part as an organization to limit the ability for him to play on both sides of the baseball.

“He's an extremely hard worker, he's very conscientious, he's been going through a lot of the things that we need him to go through. He sincerely has improved out there a lot. And so we want to see if we can maximize his ability to do everything he can as a Major League Baseball player.

“And then time will tell us. If that ends up ultimately being his lot — I don't foresee that. But if that ultimately becomes his lot, that becomes his lot. But I think right now we're going to continue to use him on both sides of the baseball, for sure.”

The White Sox figure to bring Abreu back, and he could be destined for some more time as a DH, despite the fact that he doesn’t like it. The White Sox just spent the No. 3 pick in the draft on Andrew Vaughn, whose own defensive questions as a slugging first baseman could have him destined for the DH spot. And with DH on the offseason to-do list, adding a big stick like J.D. Martinez wouldn’t be out of the question, gobbling up the at-bats at DH for multiple years.

So even if Jimenez was better suited to be designated hitter — and the White Sox are confident he’ll be just fine in left field — there might be no DH spot for him to slide into. Meaning he’s the left fielder.

What to expect for 2020 and beyond

While Jimenez didn’t live up to those oversized preseason expectations, he’s nowhere near done trying to live up to his career-long expectations. In fact, no one is expecting for this to be anywhere close to it for a guy who has so much potential — and showed much of it during the 2019 season.

And so while 31 homers is nice, what to expect in 2020 and beyond is a lot more. Not just home runs — though a healthy season from Jimenez in 2019 probably would’ve seen him hit close to 40 of them — but everything. Throughout the season, he talked about not wanting to solely be a power hitter but an all-around hitter and a good defender in left field, too.

“Fantastic rookie season,” Renteria said at the end of the season. “There are a lot of rookie across the major leagues right now that are exploding onto the scene and doing great things. He's one of them.

“I think the two stints on the IL took some games away from him, but he continued to learn, grow, improve, take the experiences he was gaining. He worked extremely hard on both sides of the ball to try to put himself in a good position. Still more work to be done, but certainly has put him in a position where he can help us win ballgames.

"I think he wants to be a complete major league player. He doesn't worry about the homers because he's got the power that naturally provides some of the things that he's been doing. I think he wants to improve as a hitter.”

So moving forward, sure, expect more dingers. But expect the rest, too, everything that made Jimenez one of the most hyped players in recent memory to begin with.

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