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Keep 'Em Down On The Farm

"While we can look at a stat line or you can look at a box score and say, 'This guy looks like he's doing well, looks like he's ready,' our checklist that we want these guys to answer is a little more lengthy than that. And not until they've answered all those questions we have for them at the minor league level will we promote them. They know what's on the list. I'm not going to sit here and tell you things our players can't do."

So spoke White Sox general manager Rick Hahn a couple weeks ago when the media applied gentle pressure about the likelihood of top prospects Eloy Jimenez and Michael Kopech arriving soon on the South Side for their major league debuts.

You could excuse Sox fans a week ago for heightened pulses and eager anticipation when Leury Garcia pulled a hamstring and went on the DL. The Yankees were coming to town for a Monday-Wednesday three-game set, which they wound up sweeping. ESPN was televising Monday's game even though the New Yorkers were on a five-game losing streak including four to the front-running Red Sox to extinguish any hope the Yanks had of overtaking the Boston group. Aaron Judge, the Yankees' behemoth slugger, wasn't even going to play because of a chip fracture in his right wrist.

What merited Monday's game to be nationally televised? Was this to be Eloy Jimenez's introduction not only to Sox fans but to fans across the country? Did ESPN possess some secret knowledge about Hahn's master plan?

Any hopes of seeing the 21-year-old Dominican prospect trot out to left field at The Grate were quickly dashed when the team recalled Ryan LaMarre - not exactly a familiar individual - from Charlotte.

LaMarre, who had been released by the Twins earlier in the season, was hitting .270 (zero home runs and seven RBI) in Triple-A in 23 games. Meanwhile, Jimenez was slashing .365/.409/1.091 after Saturday. Between Birmingham and Charlotte, he's homered 20 times and driven in 64 runs in 86 games. His feats have been featured on Sox telecasts as much as any player on the current roster.

Makes a lot of sense. Given the choice between Ryan LaMarre and Eloy Jimenez, you take LaMarre. Right?

If this were 45 years ago before free agency, that would not be the case. But today Hahn is acting in what he regards as the team's best interest despite the noise from Sox fans to bring up guys like Jimenez and Kopech. I just wish he'd be straight with us. We get more than enough spin in our lives.

Basically the question comes down to, "Would you rather see Eloy Jimenez in left field for the final 40-plus games of this putrid season or for the entire season of 2026?"

We need look no further than the other side of town and the case of Kris Bryant. Remember when our Cub fan compadres were scratching their heads when Bryant opened the 2015 season at Triple-A Iowa? All the guy had done the year before, when he was 22, a year older than Jimenez, was hit .325 with 43 home runs and 110 RBI playing at the two highest levels in the Cub system.

In spring training in 2015, Bryant hit .425, slammed nine homers and drove in 15 runs. Nevertheless, Bryant cooled his heels in Des Moines as the season began. After seven games there, Theo Epstein summoned Bryant to Wrigley and the kid was an instant star, slashing .275/.369/.858 with 26 round-trippers and 99 RBI. Not only that, but barring an unforeseen trade, Bryant, under the Cubs' control for the first seven years of his career, is ineligible for free agency until 2022.

The formula is quite simple even for someone like this writer who doesn't choose to trouble himself by dwelling on contracts, agreements, agents and all the other small print that dictates where, when and how long an athlete is indentured to a specific organization. I'm far more interested in what transpires on the field.

Nevertheless, the clubs and the players association consider a full season as 172 service days, meaning the number of days a player is on a major league roster. The clock begins ticking as soon as someone like Jimenez shows up. The team controls the player for six seasons, or 1,032 service days.

The kicker is that if the 1,032 occurs any time during a season, the player remains under control the remainder of that season. Hence, general managers working on a rebuild are able to handle prospects like Bryant and Jimenez so that they get seven seasons of control instead of six. If you're thinking that this arrangement delays a player's ability to rake in riches through free agency, you are correct. Bryant may not be thrilled about having to wait a seventh season before entertaining free agent offers, but those are the rules.

Jimenez is not the only guy whose ascension to the big leagues is being delayed. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the 19-year-old Toronto Blue Jay phenom, has played at four levels this season and is hitting .406 with 18 home runs and 69 RBI. After Saturday he had played in 257 minor league games in his career.

In comparison, Bryce Harper debuted as a 19-year-old with the Nationals after just 139 games in the minor leagues. Like Bryant, Harper was promoted at the end of April in 2012 and played on a Nationals team that season that won 98 games. The Blue Jays are going absolutely nowhere this season so bringing up Guerrero would be foolish. The front office would simply be wasting service days.

Another example of a young player making a major league entrance after a brief minor league career is the Sox's Carlos Rodon, who pitched brilliantly Friday night, blanking Cleveland over eight innings in an eventual 1-0 Sox win as Daniel Palka hit a walkoff opposite field homer. The third overall draft pick in 2014, Rodon pitched in just 11 games in the minor leagues before being promoted in April of 2015. He went 9-6 with an ERA of 3.75 the rest of that season. But, again, the Sox figured they were competitive in those days, and by bringing up Rodon after the start of the season, he remains under Sox control for seven years until 2022.

There is an argument that the best 25 players in a team's system should occupy the roster. If a team is a contender, that most often is true. However, for rebuilding teams, leaving top prospects toiling in the minor leagues is a strategy that sacrifices the present for the future.

When Hahn talks about the "checklist," the number 172 no doubt is somewhere near the top, if not the number one item. How else to explain LaMarre over Jimenez? It would be enlightening if the Sox GM would exhibit a flair for transparency and come clean about the contractual reasons of keeping Eloy down on the farm. It makes sense.

Jimenez says he's ready for the big leagues, and we appreciate a confidence that borders on cockiness. However, if Nicky Delmonico opens in left field next season, we need to understand the reasoning. Besides, why would anyone want to play baseball in Chicago in April when it truly is spring in Charlotte? Let Jimenez experience the wind and cold of April for seven springs, starting in 2020 and no sooner.

Re-Enter Courtney Hawkins?
Then there's former Sox No. 1 draft choice (13th overall) Courtney Hawkins, who memorably did a back flip upon being tabbed by the Sox in 2012. Via MLBTradeRumors.com:

"The Reds purchased the contract of outfielder Courtney Hawkins from the independent Sugar Land Skeeters on Friday, the Skeeters announced. Hawkins, who will report to High-A Daytona with the Reds, is best known for going 13th overall to the White Sox in the 2012 draft. Now 24, Hawkins stayed with the Chicago organization into this past April, when it released him after he failed to get past the Double-A level."

Hawkins was killing it in independent ball, for what it's worth, which is apparently a contract with the Reds, slashing 285/342/846 with 18 homers and 72 RBI in 88 games. He also went 12-for-12 in stolen bases. He is, however, still striking out (79 times).

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Former Bill Veeck bar buddy Roger Wallenstein is our White Sox correspondent. He welcomes your comments.

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