Eloy Jimenez and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Share Charlotte Stage
CHARLOTTE—As far as prospect-watching is concerned, it doesn’t get much better than Tuesday night in Charlotte. The second game of the series between the hometown Knights and Buffalo Bisons showcased two of the three best prospects in baseball against one of the most breathtaking backdrops the minor leagues has to offer.
Blue Jays prodigy Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit third for Buffalo. White Sox wunderkind Eloy Jimenez hit third for Charlotte. Both players had been on fire of late, with Guerrero taking the top spot in BA’s most recent Hot Sheet and Jimenez swatting 11 home runs in his first 36 games at Triple-A.
The matchup was hyped on both teams’ Web sites, and on the Jumbotron at BB&T Ballpark in the series opener the night before, when Jimenez homered while Guerrero Jr. got a night off. Blue Jays jerseys flecked the stands, and Homer, the Knights’ dragon mascot, wore a jersey that read “Homenez” on the back.
Jimenez, too, was ready for the occasion.
“It’s going to be fun today, especially because (Guerrero) is going to be in the lineup,” he said. “I like watching him hit and do his thing.”
Guerrero’s “thing” is mashing like few others his age have before. At mostly Double-A and Triple-A this season, the 19-year-old is hitting an astonishing .397/.452/.672 with 18 home runs, 69 RBIs and just 34 strikeouts. He’s been at Triple-A for just two weeks, but has already put together a stretch of four straight games with a longball.
Jimenez would have ranked as the third-youngest player in the Double-A Southern League to open the season, but his start was delayed a couple of weeks by a nagging injury. If he had been on an Opening Day roster, Mississippi’s Ricardo Sanchez and Austin Riley would have been the league’s only two younger players.
Guerrero was also excited for the matchup. They’d faced each other before, in the Dominican Winter League (Guerrero plays for Escogido, Jimenez plays for Cibao), but never in the United States outside of the 2017 Futures Game in Miami.
“It’s emotional because I played with him in the Dominican too,” he said. “So now we’re playing here in the United States and it’s very emotional for me.”
In Tuesday's game, both were rather quiet at the plate. Guerrero went 1-for-5 with a pair of strikeouts while Jimenez was 1-for-4 with a single and a strikeout.
Once they arrive in the major leagues, which could happen as early as next month for both players, they will represent a continuation of the wave of young, Latin American players rapidly blossoming into bona fide big league stars.
The Braves’ Ronald Acuna Jr., the Padres' Christian Villanueva, the Nationals’ Juan Soto and Yankees infielders Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres have each produced more than 1.8 wins above replacement, as measured by Baseball Reference, in their rookie seasons.
The first six prospects on Baseball America’s preseason Top 100 ranking were all acquired on the international market. Acuna took the top spot, followed by Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani, Guerrero Jr., Jimenez, Nationals prospect Victor Robles and Torres. Padres shortstop prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. ranked No. 9.
And that’s saying nothing of established big leaguers like Astros second baseman and reigning American League MVP Jose Altuve and burgeoning superstars like Cleveland’s Jose Ramirez and Atlanta’s Ozzie Albies.
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While international players have a long, rich history in the major leagues, their prominence has never been greater.
Beyond their own accomplishments, both Jimenez and Guerrero Jr. feel a sense of pride when they see their countrymen becoming the faces of the sport.
“It’s fun to watch (Guerrero),” Jimenez said. “When you open your Twitter, it’s the first thing you see, Vladimir Guerrero hitting another homer. It’s fun to see, especially because he’s Dominican. And when you see Latins do that, it’s very cool.”
Guerrero echoed the sentiment.
“I feel good that guys are from the Dominican,” he said. “It represents that the young guys can do the job too.”
For now, Guerrero and Jimenez are both biding their time in the minor leagues, working on polishing the aspects of their games that occur outside of the batter’s box. Whether they make their big league debuts this September or a few weeks after Opening Day next year, both Guerrero and Jimenez are likely to continue the path that Acuna, Soto, Torres, Andujar and Villanueva blazed this season.