If you catch me at the right time, I might actually argue that Eloy Jimenez is more unique than any other Cubs farmhand in the Thoycleod era.
Indeed, the prospect version of Kris Bryant had proclivities toward the whiff. Likewise, scouts had been dubious of Addison Russell and Javy Baez’s ability to make frequent contact. Kyle Schwarber might actually be the one prospect who didn’t draw as much skepticism, largely because he struck out in fewer than 21 percent of his plate appearances prior to putting on pinstripes. But he was also 21 years old when he played A-ball.
I say all this not to dig on any of the former top prospects who have now led the Cubs to a World Series championship, but rather to highlight Jimenez.
At the start of the South Bend Cubs’ 2016 season, the Dominican native had just turned 19 years old. His stature (6-4, 205) belied his youth, making him look like a man among boys. This runs in sharp contrast to my own baseball career, when umpires mistook me for a player even though I was actually coaching a high school team. The hulking Jimenez outperformed every other player in the Midwest League despite being two and a half years younger than his average low-A colleagues.
In 464 plate appearances at South Bend, Jimenez had a .204 ISO (measurement of raw power), .329 batting average, and only struck out at a 20.3 percent rate. Read that sentence again, but say “twenty point three percent rate” a little slower this time. Slower. Good, you got it.
Hitters of equivalent age typically sacrifice whiffs for power, as illustrated by the below graph of players less than 21 years old in the Midwest League.
As you can see, those who strike out at around a 20-percent rate tend to have an ISO of .110 or so. But you see that red dot there, the one sitting way above the trend line? That’s Jimenez, who posted nearly double the expected ISO for his strikeout rate.
And it wasn’t just his A-ball performance, either. Jimenez continued his season by playing in the Arizona Fall League, where he only struck out at a 17.7 percent rate and hits 3 dingers in 62 plate appearances.
Questions of whether Jimenez can lay off of better breaking and offspeed pitches will be quickly addressed when he faces advanced pitching in AA. If he does continue to mash while striking out at a low rate in Myrtle Beach and Tennessee, he’ll be knocking on the door of Theo Epstein’s new office in the triangle plaza adjacent to Wrigley field.