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Jimenez key part of Sox return to glory

Outfield prospect has an admirer in Cubs manager Maddon
@scottmerkin
March 3, 2019

MESA, Ariz. -- One of the departing predictions from Ken “Hawk” Harrelson, the iconic White Sox broadcaster who retired from the booth after the 2018 season, centered upon Chicago entering into a golden age of baseball. The Cubs, who claimed a 13-4 victory over the White Sox on Sunday before

MESA, Ariz. -- One of the departing predictions from Ken “Hawk” Harrelson, the iconic White Sox broadcaster who retired from the booth after the 2018 season, centered upon Chicago entering into a golden age of baseball.

The Cubs, who claimed a 13-4 victory over the White Sox on Sunday before a new Cactus League attendance record of 16,069 at Sloan Park, have reached the playoffs in four straight seasons and produced a World Series title as recently as 2016. The White Sox, entering Year 3 of their rebuild, are starting to see some of the fruits of their labor pay off at the big league level with what they hope is more to come in the near future.

Both teams sat atop their respective divisions on May 27, 2016, before the White Sox faded below .500. But this potential run is more about sustained yearly success toward championship contention.

“It would be a great thing for the city of Chicago to be hosting championship-caliber type clubs here in the near future,” said White Sox manager Rick Renteria, who has managed on both sides of town. “Great for the city, it’s great for the sports world.

“Maybe we can become the envy of the sports world while having great competing clubs in all aspects. We have basketball, football, hockey and a two-team baseball town. You can’t get better than that. City of Chicago happens to have, moving forward, some talented clubs on the horizon.”

Much of the Cubs’ younger talent already has proved itself at the Major League level.

Kris Bryant won National League Rookie of the Year in 2015 and NL Most Valuable Player in ’16. He launched a three-run home run off of White Sox reliever Juan Minaya on Sunday, looking healthy and ready for ’19. There’s also Anthony Rizzo, Willson Contreras, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ, who were all part of Sunday’s starting lineup and part of the Cubs' winning core, and Javier Baez, who was off for the afternoon.

Eloy Jiménez has a great chance to be one of those standouts for the South Siders, beginning at some point during this upcoming season. He talked his way into a Cactus League game last year against the Cubs, the team that originally signed the overall No. 3 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, after battling knee soreness during Spring Training and hit a pinch-hit home run off of Cory Mazzoni.

There were no such theatrics Sunday, as Jimenez started in left and finished 0-for-3. He had time to renew a few old acquaintances on Sunday, with Jimenez looking like the sort of rebuild fulcrum Bryant and Rizzo became across town.

“Really, just looks like a natural-born hitter -- very loose, very powerful to all fields,” said Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who watched Jimenez in his early stages, with the prospect’s first big league camp being with the Cubs. “Aggressive, assertive -- he had a decent eye. He kind of checked all the boxes.

“Size, strength, everything. The biggest thing for me with him was defense, to make him solvent on defense, to make sure that his arm held up. Those were the kind of things. But he's in the American League, there's other ways to manipulate that. Very, very exciting offensively. Great personality, work ethic, etc., so you could build him into a good defender.”

Following Sunday’s game, Jimenez made a point of shaking hands with Maddon and the Cubs' coaching staff. Jimenez said he knows the Cubs' staff still “loves me” and said with a smile he talked to Maddon pretty much every day in that first Spring Training.

There was admitted anxiousness for Jimenez against his old team, but he still said the day was great.

“It’s OK,” said Jimenez with a broad smile. “Next time.”

Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin and Facebook and listen to his podcast.