A precious few top prospects inevitably receive the opportunity to select where to begin their respective baseball careers.
But as a mere 16-year-old in the Dominican Republic, Eloy Jimenez had the key to his future in the palm of his hand. Yet for such an important career choice, a childhood full of memories — particularly in regard to a certain team — helped serve as his guide.
“I saw Sammy Sosa play there, and Moises Alou,” he said. “I saw Dominicans being stars, and I try to be like those guys. Sammy Sosa could hit far and with power, so I wanted to be like that too. I wanted to be part of the Chicago Cubs.”
While the bright lights and ivy clad walls of Wrigley Field are almost certainly in his near future, Jimenez is making the most of his present, one that includes an assignment with the Cubs’ Class A-Advanced club in Myrtle Beach.
Last Saturday, Jimenez was activated from the disabled list after sustaining a bone bruise in his right shoulder during spring training in Arizona. Before the injury, his performance was opening eyes throughout the Cubs’ organization as he batted .321 (9-for-28) with two home runs.
“He didn’t just open eyes in batting practice with his power, but he opened some eyes in the game,” said Chicago Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer in an interview with MLB.com. “He had some really good at-bats and we thought he played great. It’s a shame he’ll start the season a little late, but that’s when you remember it’s a five-month season.”
For the young man from the Dominican Republic — ranked as the club’s top prospect — being away from a game that has offered him so much was a tough pill to swallow.
“I felt like I needed to (be at the ballpark),” Jimenez said. “I need to go help my team. I need to go help the Pelicans win.”
Last season with South Bend (Ind.), the Cubs’ Mid-A affiliate, Jimenez feasted on Midwest League pitching en route to a .329 batting average with 14 home runs and 81 RBIs. Through six games in the Carolina League, he is batting .286 (6-for-21) with a home run and three RBIs.
I feel good … I just need to get a little more adjusted to fast balls. I’m seeing the ball well, but I need to get my timing back a little more.
Myrtle Beach Pelicans outfielder and Chicago Cubs top prospect Eloy Jimenez
Though serving as a good start to most, Jimenez said he has yet to reach his full potential as he’s still knocking off the rust from his month-long layoff.
“I feel good … I just need to get a little more adjusted to fastballs,” he said. “I’m seeing the ball well, but I need to get my timing back a little more.”
According to Jimenez, such an adjustment should not take too long — after all, in the Dominican Republic the fastball tends to be a favorite among pitchers.
“Dominican baseball is good, but you have to make adjustments on breaking pitches,” he said. “The American style is completely different. Dominican guys throw to throw hard, getting you with fastballs. Here in the United States, you learn to hit more breaking balls. You learn to adjust and mentally have a plan.”
In a highly competitive Cubs farm system, a prospect’s time at certain destinations — whether it be Eugene or South Bend, Myrtle Beach or Kodak, Tenn. — is limited. With that in mind, Jimenez and others understand excelling at this level only helps draw them closer to a common goal of one day playing in the majors.
For now, though, the goal is to continue winning ball games and push the Pelicans toward a third consecutive Mills Cup title.
“We’re a good team,” he said. “I think we can be back-to-back-to-back champions.”