KANSAS CITY — The dream scenario for White Sox fans for Opening Day of 2019 only came half-true.
Indeed, Eloy Jimenez has found his way onto the first major league roster of the season, getting there after signing a new six-year contract last week. Immediately, the outfielder brings some intrigue to the third season of the team’s major rebuild.
Unfortunately, there isn’t another big name in the lineup to join him.
Manny Machado chose the Padres over the White Sox, which brought some hurt feelings from the fan base and tempered expectations for this third year of the rebuild. He was expected to be a major piece to a resurgence of a franchise that’s missed the playoffs for the last 11 seasons, and criticism has come upon Rick Hahn for not stepping up the team’s offer late to acquire him.
So at the end of the day, the White Sox are back to where they thought they’d be prior to the chase for Machado: welcoming new prospects to the majors, with hopes for improvement over the next six months.
“They’ve made every effort to incorporate some of the things that we talked about,” said manager Rick Renteria of his team during spring training. “We’ve accomplished what we wanted to do, now it’s truly a matter of seeing if we can continue to put it together during the regular season, which is where it really matters the most.”
Once again, development is the key for this White Sox team as a few prospects look to take another step in their development. Many will watch Yoan Moncada closely as he moves to third base and tries to cut down on strikeouts (217 in 2018) at the plate. Without Machado, Tim Anderson has a firm hold on the shortstop position as one of the original prospects of the rebuild grows into a leadership role.
Yonder Alonso and Jon Jay join the lineup while veteran pitchers Kelvin Herrera and Alex Colome bolster the bullpen, which one could argue is the strongest area of the team. Ivan Nova joins the starting rotation which will be anchored by Carlos Rodon, who is finally healthy and ready for an Opening Day start after two injury-filled seasons.
Yet the story early is Jimenez, the super prospect acquired in the Jose Quintana trade with the Cubs, who tore through the White Sox minor league system over the last year-and-a-half. He hit .337 with 22 homers and 75 RBI between Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte, with many hoping he’d get the call-up to the majors at the end of the 2018 season.
He didn’t, and likely wouldn’t have until mid-April this year had he not signed the new contract last week which took out any worries about service time. Jimenez is one of the most anticipated prospects to debut for the White Sox in the last generation, but Hahn is trying to temper expectations for the biggest piece of the team’s rebuild to date.
“If anything, I want to try and manage expectations a little bit for Eloy. He’s obviously supremely talented, everyone knows his name – knows him by only his first name. He’s gotten to that level or stature already despite having yet played in a big league game,” said Hahn of Jimenez. “But he’s just one guy, and he’s a 22-year old and there’s going to be some growing pains along the way and there’s going to be some slumps and adjustments.”
“But I think over the course of the next eight years of him in a White Sox uniform, I think there are going to be some fantastic moments that he’s at the center of,’ Hahn said.
Whether that happens sooner or later remains to be seen.