What to expect from Eloy Jiménez in 2022


More. A lot more.

That's what Chicago White Sox fans should expect from Eloy Jiménez this year.

Admittedly, it'd be almost impossible not to get more from No. 74 — the sound you hear is the entire South Side knocking on wood — after an ill-fated leap at the outfield wall sidelined the heavy-hitting left fielder for months during the 2021 season. Though his return came with a bang in the form of a game-winning homer in Kansas City, Jiménez struggled to get back to the kind of swing that made him a Silver Slugger in 2020.

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Talking before the ongoing lockout, Jiménez listed his No. 1 goal for the upcoming campaign: "Go back to being Eloy." That'd be a big boost for a White Sox team that ran away with the American League Central despite Jiménez's absence/slump in 2021.

Jiménez showed everyone what all that top-prospect hype was about during the pandemic-shortened campaign in 2020, slashing .296/.332/.559 with 14 home runs and 41 RBIs in 55 regular-season games. Extrapolated to a full 162-game season, that's 41 homers and 121 RBIs, or MVP-level production. Add that to an already potent White Sox lineup, and you're talking about the South Siders returning to the tops of the AL in the power department, where they were during Jiménez's mostly healthy 2020.

That bat is of the lineup-carrying variety, and it's not difficult to imagine Jiménez power surges that could help pile up the victories in the middle of the summer. Most everybody is expecting a tighter race in the AL Central this year, so good thing Jiménez has shown an ability to come through in big moments. Even last year, which he finished with a .249/.303/.437 slash line, he contributed a memorable two-homer evening against the Cubs on "Sunday Night Baseball" and was one of the many big boppers to send a ball into the Iowa night in the Field of Dreams game.

It's the kind of impact for an already division-winning club that might be one of the biggest changes in the AL from 2021 to 2022, an offseason addition, of sorts, that could rank among baseball's biggest.

But White Sox fans know what Jiménez is capable of. They're more interested in finding out how often he'll be available to do it.

Last year's pectoral-tendon tear was obviously the worst injury yet for the 25-year-old slugger, but it wasn't the first to take the budding star out of the White Sox' lineup. Previous misadventures in the outfield had folks either laughing or wincing on social media — and also sent Jiménez to the injured list. Often, he'll toe the line between his well established sense of humor and the kind of outfield play that has everyone holding their breath.

Just remember this moment from September.

Again, it makes for a great highlight, a hilarious moment from a fun-loving dude. It also makes plenty of White Sox fans want to scream. Count Tony La Russa among the terrified.

"'Holding my breath' would be the nicest-sounding way to describe the way I felt," the South Side skipper said after that snag by Jiménez. "I told him that from now on, he's going to put his back against the wall ... and he's going to play everything in front of him. He thinks I'm kidding. I said, 'Am I kidding?' Because that was so scary.

"We're going to play him deeper. And if some bloopers fall, they fall. But he ain't going to fall."

Jiménez has no intention of becoming a designated hitter, someone who despite the in-game outcomes has always had pride in the way he works on his defense. Don't expect the White Sox to shift him to DH on anything more than a once-in-a-while basis, either.

But you should expect La Russa and his coaching staff to continue to keep tabs on the way Jiménez is playing out in left field. As that injury showed last year, the White Sox' lineup can rarely afford to be without him.

Expect, too, for Jiménez to provide plenty of reminders of that fact in 2022. He's a special offensive talent, and his production, when healthy, shows it.

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