Red Sox outfield prospect Gilberto Jimenez made his first official hit of the spring count on Saturday afternoon.
As part of a split-squad doubleheader, Jimenez made the trip to St. Petersburg with several other minor-leaguers to take on the Rays at Tropicana Field in some Grapefruit League action.
Starting in right field and batting ninth, Jimenez was tasked with going up against left-hander Shane McClanahan, who finished sixth in American League Cy Young Award voting last year, to begin things on Monday.
McClanahan, making his third start of the spring for the Rays, took a no-hitter into the third inning by retiring seven of the first eight Red Sox batters he faced. With one out in the third, Jimenez stepped up to the plate for the first time. Hitting from the right side, the switch-hitter fouled off a first-pitch slider but did not extend the at-bat any further.
On the very next pitch he saw, Jimenez took an 87 mph changeup on the outer half of the plate and promptly deposited it 367 feet over the left field fence. The solo shot left his bat at 100.9 mph and later proved to be the only offense the Red Sox could muster off McClanahan and four different Rays relievers.
Jimenez, who went 1-for-2 in Saturday’s 3-1 loss to Tampa Bay, is now batting .143 in Grapefruit League play with one RBI, one run scored, one stolen base, and four strikeouts across seven trips to the plate this spring.
The Red Sox originally signed the 22-year-old Jimenez for just $10,000 as an international free agent coming out of the Dominican Republic in August 2017. After bursting onto the scene and rising through the ranks as a teenager, the San Cristobal native has seen his prospect stock take a hit recently.
Coming into the 2023 campaign, for instance, Jimenez is no longer regarded by Baseball America as one of the top 30 prospects in Boston’s farm system. After peaking at No. 7 in 2021, Jimenez fell all the way to No. 23 last year after slashing just .268/.306/.366 (84 wRC+) with 18 doubles, two triples, five home runs, 34 RBIs, 49 runs scored, 20 stolen bases, 18 walks, and 100 strikeouts over 99 games (407 plate appearances) with High-A Greenville.
Among the 54 hitters who qualified as league leaders in the South Atlantic League last season, Jimenez posted the lowest walk rate (4.4 percent) and the 26th-worst strikeout rate (24.4 percent). He also ranked 45th in on-base percentage, 37th in slugging percentage, 40th in OPS (.672), 49th in isolated power (.097), 53rd in swinging-strike rate (18.4 percent), 53rd in groundball rate (58.7 percent), and 50th in line-drive rate (15.9 percent), per FanGraphs.
On the other side of the ball, Jimenez saw playing time at all three outfield positions while with the Drive in 2022. The 5-foot-11, 212-pounder logged 70 innings in left field, 336 innings in center field, and 403 2/3 innings in right field while leading the team in both outfield assists (11) and errors (10).
Jimenez’s 20 stolen bases (in 29 attempts) ranked second on the Drive behind only Tyler McDonough, who swiped 21 bags. Speed remains one of Jimenez’s top tools, as indicated by his above-average speed score of 6.0 last year. He is also still considered by Baseball America to have the best arm of any Red Sox outfield prospect.
Jimenez, who turns 23 in July, is expected to make the jump to Double-A Portland for the start of the 2023 minor-league season, which begins on April 6 for the Sea Dogs. In certain respects, these next few months could be important for Jimenez when you consider the fact that he can once again become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this winter.
If Jimenez can show signs of improvement both at the plate and in the outfield in Portland, he could emerge as a potential trade candidate or even a candidate to be added to the Red Sox’ 40-man roster by the end of the year.
(Picture of Gilberto Jimenez: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)