Prospect Update: Are Walks Arresting Eloy Jimenez’s Development?

Eloy Jimenez, the Cubs 20-year-old No. 1 prospect, now has 15 games under his belt at advanced-A Myrtle Beach. He has played six games in left, three in right, and has served as either designated or pinch hitter six times. His stats look good: batting .273 with an OBP over .400 while cranking out four homers and driving in 13 runs. He is a little pull happy, with 59 percent of hits to left, but he’s walking at a 16.5 percent rate — nearly 10 points above normal for him — while striking out in only 14.5 percent of his trips to the plate.

I could go on and on about every stat of his, every one of which signals that he is the top prospect in the Cubs system. That only leaves one question to ask: “What is Jimenez still doing in Myrtle Beach?”

My initial answer is, I don’t know.

His throwing shoulder, which he injured in late spring training, looks to be fine. He doesn’t seem to be challenged and is able to easily identify pitches. He rarely gets fooled. I did notice in the past week that he was swinging with more gusto than normal. Rather than putting a good stroke on the ball, he was trying to kill it. Those at-bats didn’t last too long after going 0-for-5 and 0-for-4 on back-to-back nights. He followed that by looking more in control with a HR and a double in the same game.

How He Is Being Pitched?

When other observers check the stats, the first thing to pop out is the walk rate.

As a result of this tweet, I started going back to get a good look at exactly how Jimenez was being pitched to. My hope was to find a pattern, something to explain the spike. One thing I kept in mind was that three of the teams in the Carolina League also have affiliates in the Midwest League where Jimenez played in 2016 with South Bend. Buies Creek, Carolina, and Lynchburg pitchers have seen what he can do with a bat.

The patterns I found fall into three buckets:

1. Good at-bats, fighting off pitches, being a good hitter with a solid approach.

2. “We’re not giving you anything close to hit.”

3. A steady diet of down and away

Bottom line: How much longer will he have to stay in Myrtle Beach?

Considering he just went through an 0-for-9 streak and is learning how to adapt to how he is being pitched, I don’t think we can call for an Uber to Kodak, Tennessee just yet. Then again, his ability to react and do damage to the few good pitches he does see could mean a promotion in the near future.

Here is the graphic from Gameday on his most recent home run:

The pattern looks the same for the balls. The pitcher tried to come up and in on the hands and Jimenez destroyed it. It’s hard to describe, but this young man has amazing pitch recognition skills. He can pick up the ball very quickly out of the pitcher’s hand, noting the spin and rotation as well.

Here is the home run in real time.

One other thing to consider about  the timing of a promotion is that Myrtle Beach is in the middle of a chase for a playoff berth, as is AA Tennessee. I don’t think there is any rush to get him to AA. I tend to think it will happen over the All-Star break from June 19-21. While the talent is undeniable, Jimenez still has some work to do. Will that be best accomplished in Myrtle Beach or in Tennessee?

I tend to think Jimenez would be better off in Tennessee, where he could slot in front of or behind Jason Vosler in the batting order. Then there would be no way for opponents to pitch around either hitter and Jimenez would see more consistent balls in and around the strike zone. As it is now, he’s having to act like Barry Bonds in his prime and sit on the few good pitches he’ll see.

We saw this spring that Jimenez can hit major league pitching. Now it’s a matter of seeing how he can hit minor league pitching when those pitchers don’t want to throw to him.

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