Why the White Sox decided to keep Eloy Jimenez in the minor leagues


Eloy Jimenez will not play for the White Sox in 2018.

General manager Rick Hahn brought to an end Monday the “will he, won’t he” questioning that’s gone on for months as the team’s top-ranked prospect — and the No. 3 prospect in the game — has put up monster numbers in the minor leagues.

Hahn offered up numerous reasons for why the team made the decision it did, though surely they won’t go all the way toward convincing the fan base that the move wasn’t done with service time in mind, with the goal of holding Jimenez’s promotion until the early weeks of the 2019 season in order to tack an extra year of team control onto the end of his contract.

To those doubters, Hahn had a response.

“I do think, with regards to service time, we have a really strong track record here that speaks for itself of we will promote potential impact prospects when we feel they are ready to make that next step, or are ready for that next level,” he said during a 20-minute Labor Day media session. “You saw it middle of last year with (Yoan) Moncada, (Reynaldo) Lopez. You saw it last September with (Lucas) Giolito. You saw it a few weeks ago with (Michael) Kopech.

“Our track record’s pretty clear on this, when we feel a player is developmentally ready to fulfill, or put in the best position to fulfill and meet their ceiling, we will advance them to the next level.”

Hahn, of course, has a point. Jimenez is not the first highly rated prospect the White Sox have had to make a decision on. And while Moncada, Lopez and Giolito — who all debuted in the second half of the 2017 season — all had already made their big league debuts with other organizations, Kopech had not. As the team’s highest-rated pitching prospect, wouldn’t the White Sox want another year of control in his situation, too? And yet they made the call on him, though he comes with his own caveat of pitching at the Triple-A level all season long.

Jimenez played at both the Double-A and Triple-A levels this season, and that was Hahn’s first point Monday, that the team didn’t want to rush Jimenez to a third level of pro ball in one season.

The best arguments for keeping Jimenez away from the majors this season, however, came later. Hahn mentioned the White Sox history of rushing highly touted prospects to the major league level and doing so with mixed results. He also discussed Jimenez’s continued development and the aspects of it which don’t pop up in his always gaudy stat lines.

“Over the years, I think you’ve seen us as an organization perhaps be a little too aggressive when it comes to promoting premier talent. That was motivated in large part by where we were at the big league level. Part of this rebuild process is we are extremely committed to making sure every player we promote is in a position to excel in every element of their game,” Hahn said. “There’s inevitably going to be some setbacks at the big league level. But we are going to do everything in our power to make sure that every element of a potential impact player’s game is fully developed before we bring them here. In Eloy’s case, from an offensive standpoint.

“We view this player as having potential to be a very special, impactful White Sock for a very long time. If we are going to err in his player development it’s going to be to err on the side of patience.”

The argument perhaps most likely to convince skeptical fans that there are good baseball-related reasons to keep Jimenez away from the big leagues for a bit longer: “We’re not looking to develop a 21-year-old DH.”

“I think that with Eloy we’re in this very similar spot to where we were with Michael earlier in this season. He was striking out a lot of guys, he was doing it basically with one pitch, and there was a bit of a clamor to bring him up. From our perspective though, he was trending, at that point, more as a reliever. We wanted to see better fastball command, we wanted to see some adjustments in his delivery, we wanted to see improvement with the secondary pitches, and then all of a sudden when that clicked, he started trending as a front-end of the rotation type guy, and it was time, because we had accomplished everything that we wanted for him at the minor league level, to advance, and there was also the innings consideration that we talked about.

“With Eloy, we’re not looking to develop a 21-year-old DH. Offensively, he’s in a very good spot, but we view him much higher. Just as we didn’t view Michael as a bullpen guy, we viewed him as a potential front-end starter, we view Eloy as a potentially elite all-around player, and although offensively he might be in a real good spot, he’s had a very good year offensively, we’re looking to develop him as a well-rounded, impact player.”

There seemed to be some pushback on that thinking in recent weeks. Jimenez himself penned an essay in the Players’ Tribune declaring himself “beyond ready” for the major leagues, and his agents followed by telling FanCred’s Jon Heyman that they believed the White Sox were refusing to promote Jimenez strictly for service-time reasons.

For what it’s worth, a large number of Twitter-using White Sox fans were on the service-time bandwagon long before either of those stories were published, and it’s honestly not a bad strategy for a team that talks so much about best positioning itself for long-term success. Look how well it worked out for the Cubs, who will have an extra year of control with Kris Bryant after delaying his promotion until the early weeks of the 2015 season.

Hahn, for one, enjoyed Jimenez’s piece, which if not a demand to be promoted was at the very least a continued display of the kind of confidence that has become a trademark of this group of White Sox prospects.

“In terms of the proclamation that he’s ready, we’ve been hearing that from him since A ball. So that’s fine,” Hahn said with a smile. “We much prefer our players to feel like they are ready and they want to accelerate the time frame we have them on. I think (pitching coach Don Cooper) puts it best when he said we would rather tame a bronco than prod a mule. We might have a thoroughbred on our hands here, but we are going to still develop him on a path that we feel makes the most sense.”

For the fans that weren’t all aboard the service-time bandwagon, this news might come as a disappointment. As willing to buy into the rebuilding effort as the fan base has been, there’s no doubt that the waiting game has not been a fun one to play. Even with a much better showing in recent weeks, the big league team stood 27 games under .500 when Hahn spoke Monday afternoon.

But frustration at the major league level — which Hahn has often said is shared by the entire organization — was never going to be a factor driving the decision-making when it came to these prospects. Hahn reiterated that Monday.

“We share that fan element of enthusiasm for the future. We share that eagerness to get to that future as quickly as possible, but we are not going to shortcut this thing just for good emotion or for positive reinforcement of this process as a whole,” he said. “The short-term gain isn’t worth the potential negative long-term impact. We are going to be as diligent as we can be and keep a long-term focus in this thing, and again, if we’re going to err, we're going to err on the side of patience.”

It would make sense that it won’t be long until Jimenez is playing in the majors. If service time is the issue behind the scenes — and Hahn and the White Sox have made no indication that it is — then the wait would only be a couple weeks into the 2019 season. (Bryant, for example, made his big league debut on April 17, 2015.) If there’s further development that’s needed, there can’t be too much of it considering the .337/.384/.577 slash line and 22 home runs that Jimenez finished with this season in the minor leagues.

And so the song remains the same for the White Sox as this rebuilding process moves forward. If you’re disappointed — and Jimenez might fit that description, too — just exercise a little more patience. Because as we’ve seen with Kopech this season, when the debut comes, the future comes fast with it.

“I think it’s natural for him to be disappointed,” Hahn said. “He’s not alone, by the way. I’ve had conversations with multiple agents over the last few days about various players who feel they should be promoted to the big leagues at this time. That’s normal. That’s par for the course with all 30 clubs come this time of the year.

“I know at the very least I have no doubt about Eloy understanding how much we value him and how important we view him toward our future and how excited we are that he’s going to be a White Sox.”

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