Rain delays often make for the best conversations. I was lucky to be privy to one such occasion Saturday night, when Darin Pritchett, the South Bend Cubs radio announcer, joined the Great Lake Loons MiLB.TV broadcast and waxed poetically about several topics. Pritchett bounced from Jason Heyward to Cubs fans panicking to stadium design in the Midwest League. My favorite topic of this 45-minute conversation, however, was about Eloy Jimenez and why he should stay in South Bend the rest of the year.
I could write about Jimenez every day, I really could. I don’t think that’s any surprise. The 6-4, 205-pound outfielder has many positive attributes that make him, in my opinion, the Cubs’ top prospect. He can hit for average and power, has an excellent arm, and is capable of making spectacular plays on defense. On top of that, Jimenez exudes confidence, handles the press and fans well, and is an excellent teammate and leader. He’s not perfect by any means, but we’re talking about a kid who won’t turn 20 until after Thanksgiving.
Signed as the #1 international free agent in 2013, Jimenez has had a slow and steady climb up the Cubs organizational ladder. He debuted in 2014 in the Arizona Rookie League, where he had an underwhelming batting average (.227) and a high RBI total (27) in 42 games. He then made it to short-season Eugene and hit .284 with 7 home runs and 38 RBI in 57 games. It was better, but not magnificent.
One could see the potential for power, the developing hit tool. Then in fall instructs, Jimenez took on a leadership role with many of the other young international players and began shaping up for what would be his breakout season.
What a season it has been. He’s hitting .343 with 12 homers and 69 RBI with a .548 slugging percentage. He stole the show in the Future’s Game and the Midwest League All-Star Game, and he has handled it all in style. And yet, he is still at low-A South Bend after as accomplished a four months as you will see in the minors at any level. Pritchett thinks it’s for the best. To be honest, I concur.
I get emails from the South Bend Cubs organization every day, many of which come directly from Pritchett. There are games notes, updates, previews, and roster transactions, and I read them in order. As Jimenez has heated up, I keep expecting to see his name in an email in a roster transaction email and I am quite relieved when I don’t.
Here are a few of the reasons Pritchett listed during the rain delay broadcast about why Eloy should stay in South Bend for the foreseeable future.
He’s just 19
Pritchett commented that in his two years as South Bend’s broadcaster, Eloy Jimenez is the best prospect he has seen in the Cubs system. He believes that the power tool, which is still developing, is much better then Gleyber Torres’s, even though they are the same age. Even so, Jimenez is still two years younger than the league average for low-A.
Pritchett talked at length about his conversations with manager Jimmy Gonzalez and how comfortable Jimenez is this year. He further explained how that comfort will aid in development. As a result, the young start will not feel the kind of pressure or stress that could actually disrupt his course.
The conversation touched briefly on Jimenez as a leader for a team that has the best record in the Midwest League.
Eddy Julio Martinez
Another bonus of keeping Jimenez in South Bend, according to Darin, is the bond he’s formed with Martinez. I was able to see this firsthand in Clinton, as the two were almost inseparable throughout the day.
In years past, it’s been common practice for the Cubs to move some of their top prospects up to experience playoff baseball. South Bend has already qualified for the playoffs, while Myrtle Beach has not. Pritchett talked about how Jimenez should be able to take part in South Bend’s playoffs because he was the main cog in helping the team clinch that berth and maintain the best record in the league.
Still more to work on
Pritchett reminded everybody that even though Jimenez can put up video game numbers, he is still far from the finished product. The effort we saw in the Futures Game has not necessarily been there on a daily basis this year. Yes, the kid does hustle, he just hasn’t been consistently great in the field or on the basepaths.
Pritchett makes a lot of great arguments and he speaks with the voice of authority as one who sees Jimenez on a daily basis. I may not have quite the same access, but I have watched/listened to upwards of 65 games this year. As such, I have a few ideas of my own about why the budding star really should stay in South Bend, though they are a little more big picture than those above.
Who’s he going to replace?
Outside of maybe Dexter Fowler leaving this offseason, there’s really no one Jimenez is going to replace in the next two years. Albert Almora is going to be entrenched in center field, likely starting next year. Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler (for now anyway) seem to be in left field. Jason Heyward is signed through at least 2018. Unless someone is traded, there’s not a spot for him to be rushed up to.
Developmentally, I want this kid to be ready on Day One has a big leaguer. I don’t think that’s unreasonable to ask for, considering his talents and how young he is. Think about Kris Bryant. When he arrived, everyone thought they were going to be awed by his hitting talents. Instead, I was amazed by his baserunning skills, glove, arm, and baseball IQ. And yet, Bryant continued to progress in each of those skills at the highest level, especially on defense. That’s how fully developed Jimenez should be.
He’s earned it
It may sound counter-intuitive to argue that great performance should be rewarded by not being promoted, but bear with me. After the year he’s had and how he’s put the team on his back, Eloy Jimenez has earned the right to finish out the season and complete the tasks he started. If he leaves South Bend, it will be a little disappointing.
Of course, the Cubs are going to put Jimenez’s development and the good of the greater organization above that of South Bend. I just hope those things all continue to line up over the next couple months.