Is Eloy Jiménez really going to play right field for the White Sox in 2023?
It’s a suddenly relevant question after new manager Pedro Grifol raised the possibility during Andrew Benintendi’s introductory press conference Wednesday.
Benintendi, of course, is a left fielder, a Gold Glover there, and he’ll be the team’s everyday starter at the position formerly held by Jiménez, whose repeated defensive misadventures have long had fans calling for his relegation to full-time DH duty. As long as he’s been a big leaguer, Jiménez has made it known his preference to be an all-around player and his distaste for the designated hitter position. But he thrived in that role after being forced there by physical limitations in 2022, showing the White Sox could find a way to keep his big bat in the lineup while preserving his health.
The assumption, then, was that Jiménez would be the White Sox’ full-time DH in 2023.
And then Grifol was asked if that was indeed the case.
“Benny comes here to play left field. He’s done it his whole career, and he’s obviously very good at it,” Grifol said. “I’ve spoken to Eloy. I’ve told him to continue to work in the outfield, to work some in right field, as well. So that conversation has already been had with him. And in true professional manner, Eloy (wants to do) whatever is best for this ballclub and whatever helps us win baseball games.”
And White Sox Twitter was set ablaze.
Now, “work some in right field” does not equal Jiménez being the team’s everyday right fielder. And most likely, this is Grifol keeping his roster as versatile as possible. Jiménez, for what it’s worth, is not a complete stranger to right field, despite playing exclusively left field as a big leaguer. He played there in the minors, including in more than 60 games as a White Sox minor leaguer. Should Benintendi be unable to play left field at any point during the season, or if there’s a vacancy of any length in right field, Grifol simply wants Jiménez to be prepared.
The South Side skipper addressed the question once more in an interview with CHGO after the press conference.
“Eloy’s a dynamic offensive player. Everybody knows that he can be one of the best offensive players in the game,” Grifol said. “Obviously, Benny comes in as a left fielder, that’s what Eloy’s been playing for quite a bit. In speaking to Rick (Hahn), Eloy also has some experience in right field.
“I talked to Eloy. He’s all-in, he’s a professional, he knows what we’re trying to do. And I told him, ‘Obviously, Benny’s coming here to play left field. I need you to continue to practice in left, play some right field, in case there’s a need out there in right field.’ And he said, ‘Whatever it takes to win baseball games. I’m in this thing to play October baseball, and that’s what this is about.’ And I said, ‘That’s all we need to hear.’
“Our job is to keep Eloy in the lineup throughout the whole year. And if we can do that, if he can stay healthy, I know he’ll have a big year for us.”
The everyday right-field gig is expected, at present, to go to Oscar Colás, who had a big year in the minor leagues last season. He has the potential to boost the White Sox’ lineup with his bat and provide defensive improvements in the outfield. But he is, of course, still a player with zero major league experience, and no matter the team’s level of confidence in him, there’s a sizable unknown when it comes to how he’ll fare in both spring training and the regular season.
Should there be no further additions to the White Sox’ roster, and in the event, however unlikely, that Colás fails to prove himself ready for primetime in the spring, the assumption is that Gavin Sheets would receive vastly more starts in right field, where he started nearly 80 games in 2022. Sheets, of course, has been viewed to this point as mainly a platoon bat, someone who perhaps would only start against right-handed starting pitchers. Maybe there’s a world where Jiménez starts as the right fielder against lefties, allowing the DH position to be used for other bats, for example, Yasmani Grandal.
It’s getting pretty far down the hypothetical rabbit hole, but it’s similar evidence that the White Sox would be well served by options everywhere on the field. Few are clamoring for Jiménez to play the outfield on any sort of regular basis. But those same folks might be far more pleased by the looks of the team’s lineup in exactly that scenario versus the alternative.
For what it’s worth, Grifol spoke to CHGO about Colás and echoed the same excitement that Hahn has expressed for the youngster this winter.
“Oscar lives in Miami. And the last three weeks he’s been working with (new White Sox coaches) Mike Tosar and José Castro down in Miami, and I’ve seen him quite a few times. He’s been pretty impressive,” Grifol said. “He’s a young kid, has got a good head on his shoulders. … He looks good. He’s in really good shape, he’s strong. He’s got potential to be an impact bat.
“We’re looking for big things out of him, too. He’s going to have every opportunity to make this ballclub in spring training, and we’ll see where it goes.”
The bottom line: Don’t freak out. Jiménez being asked to “work some in right field” does not forecast 150-plus games’ worth of wincing every time a fly ball is hit to the right side. It merely speaks to the team maximizing one of its best players and making itself flexible to act when the inevitable happens during a baseball season.