PHOENIX — Mention “Eloy Jiménez” and “outfield” in the same sentence, and you’re likely to raise the blood pressure of baseball fans across the South Side.
The White Sox slugger’s history of defensive misadventures in left field has produced numerous IL trips and numerous viral moments, and some fans have been begging for the team to move him to full-time DH duty for years. And it looked like those prayers were finally answered this winter, when Andrew Benintendi received the richest free-agent deal in club history and the keys to the everyday gig in left field.
But any moments of relief were quickly halted when new manager Pedro Grifol said he’d asked Jiménez to spend the winter working out in right field. And sure enough, even after mastering life as a DH last season — limited physically, Jiménez managed to turn in one of the best offensive second halves in baseball — the 26-year-old big bopper once again expressed his distaste for DH’ing and eyed an outfield job for 2023.
White Sox Twitter lit up again, of course. But fast forward to spring training, and here Jiménez is at camp, practicing in right field and still talking about how he’s trying to leave Arizona as the team’s everyday right fielder, something that a month or two ago seemed relatively impossible, considering the Benintendi addition and team brass’ offseason hype of outfield prospect Oscar Colás.
“(This offseason, Grifol and I) were talking, and he said, ‘I’m going to put you out there. Give me your best,’” Jiménez said Wednesday. “I’m going to do that. And I’ll try to stay there because everybody knows I don’t like DH. I’m going to work to be an outfielder.
“I’m really working to play the outfield. And if I feel that I’m not good at it – I don’t feel that right now – it is what it is. Right now, I feel like I can play. That’s why I worked. That’s why I lost some weight. Let’s see what happens.”
But regardless of what Jiménez thinks, would the White Sox really consider putting him out in right field on a regular basis after watching him jeopardize his health and contribute to overall poor team defense over the years?
Consider it? Sure seems that way.
“At this point in time, he’s competing for that job. That’s what he’s doing,” Grifol said. “He’s doing a phenomenal job coming out here and really, really working hard.”
Now, for anyone out there who hasn’t yet fainted, realize that giving Jiménez a chance to win the starting gig in right and penciling him in for 150 games out there are two very different things. Colás still figures to be the favorite for the job, and his supposed defensive prowess — to go along with a power bat that tore up the minors a year ago — could easily make him the best man for the job and everyone back home in Chicago can still get the outcome they expected: Jiménez getting most of his playing time as the DH.
But if there’s only one person thrilled about Jiménez’s attitude of trying to win time in the outfield, it’s Grifol, who wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I love it,” Grifol said. “Why would you not commit yourself and compete for a job in the outfield? He’s a mainstay in our lineup, of course. But why wouldn’t you want to prepare yourself and go out there and compete for a defensive job? I would do the same thing if I was in his shoes. And I want him to do that. I want him to go out there and stay hungry and compete for that right-field job.
“I would do the same thing if I was him. I would never just come in and say, ‘OK, I’m a designated hitter.’ I don’t expect him to do that. So I’m actually pleased about that type of mentality.”
Rather than mail it in as a DH, Jiménez went on an offseason diet. He didn’t seem too happy about leaving all those good-tasting foods behind, but it sure did work. He estimated he’s down about 25 or 30 pounds, looking good and feeling “amazing.” He said he’s able to move around a lot easier after the weight loss, and who knows, maybe that has a positive effect on his ability in the outfield.
But again, we’re not talking about a job already won. Cactus League play, which begins Saturday, should shed more light on his chances, in the eyes of the coaching staff, before he departs to represent the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic.
“We haven’t played a game yet,” Grifol said. “We’ll address that after we see him play out there. He hasn’t played out there in a while. At this point in time, I don’t know what he’s going to bring to right field. I know what I saw (in drills) yesterday, and it was pretty good. He got after it, and he worked hard. But he’s competing for an outfield job.”
In the end, it could all wind up as expected. Jiménez could — and likely will — serve as the White Sox’ primary DH in 2023. If he isn’t happy about it, Grifol’s message is basically “too bad.”
“Communication is not always what you want to hear. Communication is what it is,” Grifol said. “If the time comes where he wins that job or he wins some playing time out there, I’ll communicate that with him. If the time comes where we don’t see him playing much out there, I’ll communicate that with him, as well.
“And that goes for everybody on this club. Everybody’s going to know their role. They might not like their role, but they’re going to know their role.”
The competition in right field undoubtedly includes Jiménez at this point in the spring. Will he be the better option over Colás or even Gavin Sheets? We’ll find out.
One thing Grifol doesn’t want anyone to forget, however, is that Jiménez angling for that job, to be more than just the biggest bat in the middle of the White Sox’ lineup, is a big positive, a display of drive and motivation, a display of a desire to work and improve.
Call the idea of putting Jiménez in right field a stupid one all you’d like, but it’s not a bad idea to show up to camp with that attitude.