Eloy Jimenez and Gleyber Torres played together during spring training in 2016 when both were low-level minor-leaguers in the Cubs system, getting some time in Cactus League games after the regulars had showered and gone home.
Only 2½ years later, Torres is in line to become American League Rookie of the Year with the Yankees, while Jimenez is tearing up Triple-A Charlotte and awaiting a promotion the White Sox say is “really close.”
Torres doesn’t keep in touch with many of his fellow prospects from the Cubs system, but he said he and Jimenez spoke recently and he’s eager for his friend to join him in the majors.
“Eloy’s going to be a great player,” he said.
READ: Top prospect Eloy Jimenez ‘really close’ to joining the White Sox »
It’s no crime to wonder what would’ve happened if the Cubs had kept both prospects.
Would Jimenez already be playing left field for the stretch drive, taking playing time from Kyle Schwarber?
Would Torres have bumped Javier Baez to shortstop and forced a trade of Addison Russell?
Would the Cubs have won the 2016 World Series without Aroldis Chapman?
Would they be better off now with Jimenez and Dylan Cease in the organization than with Jose Quintana as a No. 3 starter?
We’ll never know the answers, of course, but imagining the “what ifs” has been a part of baseball at least since the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1920. Cubs President Theo Epstein knew Torres could become a star with the Yankees and Jimenez and Cease can become core pieces of the White Sox rebuild but thought both trades were worth the risk.
Epstein’s Cubs already have won one ring in Chicago, and if Quintana helps them get another, there’s no reason to second-guess that decision.
Torres still has work to do to become a great all-around player, but he suddenly has developed power he never displayed in the minors.
After hitting his 18th home run Monday night against the Sox, Torres is averaging one home run per 14 at-bats after homering once every 59 at-bats in his five minor-league seasons. The only second baseman with 200 or more at-bats with a higher slugging percentage than Torres’ .539 is Baez at .594.
While Torres credited hard work, conditioning and maturation for the power surge, the development in the Yankees system obviously contributed as well.
“It’s well-documented what a great trade it was by both clubs,” said Jim Hendry, the former Cubs general manager now working as an assistant to Yankees GM Brian Cashman. “I think (Torres is) just one of those people you see in the history of the game, you grow into your power a little bit after you play a little longer and get into your 20s.
“He’s just a really good hitter that probably learned to elevate the baseball a little more playing in the big leagues, even though it’s only a short time. We always thought, as I’m sure Theo did, there was 20-home-run power at least in there. It’s not really a big surprise to any of us.”
Jimenez, meanwhile, is reputed to be the next big thing on the South Side, and waiting for his arrival has become the guessing game of choice.
There has not been this kind of anticipation for a Sox prospect since Frank Thomas arrived from Double-A Birmingham 28 years ago. Player development director Chris Getz said in an interview with WSCR-AM 670 that Jimenez is close to being called up, putting pressure on general manager Rick Hahn to make it happen.
Remember the Yankees sent Torres down to minor-league camp in the middle of March, a decision made easier by his .160 average in 25 at-bats and the fact he had undergone Tommy John surgery on his left elbow the previous June. Like Hahn, Cashman said service time was not a consideration in evaluating the second baseman.
Torres needed to spend 16 days with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to delay his free agency an extra year, keeping him in Yankees pinstripes until 2024 instead of 2023. He played 14 games at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, hitting .347, and was promoted three days after the deadline had passed.
The Sox could do likewise with Jimenez, and it probably would be beneficial to the organization in the long term. But it’s hard to rationalize keeping Jimenez down, especially when other top prospects such as Torres, the Braves’ Ozzie Albies and the Nationals’ Juan Soto are performing so well.
Any Cubs-White Sox trade is going to be scrutinized to death, and many already have deemed the Quintana-Jimenez deal a steal for the Sox, especially with Cease dominating in the minors as well. Hendry applauded the Cubs’ aggressiveness, citing Epstein’s “if not now, when?” line after the Chapman trade.
“Without Chapman, the Cubs don’t win the World Series,” Hendry said. “We fortunately got a great player with Gleyber and then got Chapman back. Honestly, we were trying to get Quintana last year also. That story hasn’t played all the way out either. We had a solid package on the table for some high-end prospects.
“He’s a young, controllable starting pitcher with a lot of years left on the deal and a favorable contract. As good a prospect as Jimenez might be, you’d do the same thing.