2022 Vancouver Canadians shortstop Leo Jiménez steps into the batter’s box for this instalment of C’s Chat.
Born in Chitre, Panama, Jiménez came to the Toronto Blue Jays as a free-agent July 2, 2017 and received a signing bonus of $825,000. His signing scouts were Alex Zapata and Sandy Rosario.
Instead of reporting to the Dominican Summer League to begin his pro career, the Jays decided to send Jiménez stateside with the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays in 2018. A 17 year-old then, he kept his head above water, getting on base three times in his first professional contest with two singles and a walk against the GCL Pirates in Bradenton June 18. Jiménez collected five hits in his first three games, including two doubles while drawing two walks and driving in two runs. Though he did tail off, he still had eight doubles and two triples and walked 16 times against 17 strikeouts to finish with a batting line of .250/.333/.341 in 37 games.
The majority of Jiménez’s second season was with Bluefield in 2019. He batted .250 in June and .259 in July before tearing it up in August with a .360 mark. That gave him a .298 batting average of the year with a .377 mark in the OBP and SLG departments. He established a career-high with a four-hit game against Princeton July 14. That was among 19 multi-hit efforts, seven of which were of the three-hit variety.
That led to Jiménez getting a brief taste of full-season ball as he skipped over Vancouver and went to High-A Lansing for a pair of games, collecting his first hit as a Lugnut in Fort Wayne September 2.
When minor league play resumed in 2021 after COVID, Jiménez began the year at Low-A Dunedin after dealing with a hand injury in early May. He was batting .300 in late June when he went on the injured list with a left (non-throwing) shoulder injury, causing him to miss a good chunk of July and August. After a five-game tune-up in which he hit .385 with a .600 on-base percentage at the Florida Complex League, Jiménez hit his first professional home run against the Palm Beach Cardinals August 31 to kickstart a come-from-behind win for the D-Jays. He batted .315 with Dunedin and got on base at a .517 clip.
Jiménez’s season was not quite over yet. He was assigned to the Arizona Fall League and continued to find his way on base by hitting .237/.412/.342. Jiménez also made nine starts at second to increase his middle infield utility. That led to him earning a spot on the Toronto Blue Jays 40-man roster, protecting him from the Rule 5 draft that never happened.
Baseball America currently rates Jiménez as the seventh-best prospect in the Toronto Blue Jays system.
“Jimenez has an extremely unusual shape to his offensive skill set. He drew more walks (54) than strikeouts (36) in 2021, rarely chasing pitches to produce a 21% walk rate. While lack of strength was a liability for Jimenez until after the 2019 season, he showed up to instructional league in 2020 with significantly more muscle. That has led to more impressive batting practice displays when he lets it loose, but his game power output is still minimal, with only one home run in 154 games in pro ball. Some evaluators think it could just take an approach adjustment for Jimenez to more aggressively try to drive the ball for power when he’s ahead in the count rather than being content just putting the ball in play, but the lack of game power might just be who he is.
Jimenez is an instinctive, fluid defender who doesn’t have the explosive athleticism some teams prefer at shortstop, but he’s a steady, reliable defender with soft hands, loose actions, good body control and a knack for slowing the game down, with slightly below-average speed and an average arm.
If Jimenez can figure out a way to unlock more power, there’s a path to him developing into a solid middle infielder in the big leagues, possibly as a utilityman.”
BA gave Jiménez 50 grades for his hitting, fielding and throwing on the 20-80 scouting scale as well as a 45 for speed and a 30 for power. However, he is starting to show off a bit more pop with his bat with Vancouver in 2022. The 5-foot-11, 215-pound righthanded hitter has gone deep twice in Hillsboro April 28 and in Eugene May 9. He enjoyed a perfect day at the plate against Everett May 8 by going 3-for-3 with a walk and a hit by pitch in a comeback win at Nat Bailey Stadium.
Despite scuffling with a .163 batting average in April, he still managed to get on base with a .369 mark. Heading into the final week of May, he has batted .306 so far for the month with a .490 slugging percentage.
C’s Plus Baseball recently chatted with Jiménez about a number of things including his addition to the Jays 40-man roster, how he wound up with Canada’s Team and his approach at the plate.
The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
C’s Plus Baseball – Leo, you were added to the 40-man roster for the Toronto Blue Jays. How did it feel and how did you find out?
Leo Jiménez – It was actually unreal. I was in the Fall League in November. It was almost like the end of the Fall League so it was getting to that day closer to like 40-man spots, like the Rule 5 draft, whatever. After a game, our Player Development coaching staff called me. ‘Hey Leo, we actually added you to the 40-man roster.‘ Man, I couldn’t believe it if I’m being completely honest with you. I got so excited. I calledl my Mom, my Dad, like my whole family to let them know and it’s been unreal. It’s been a great experience. This year, I actually had the opportunity to (spend time) with all those guys in the big leagues and spring training. So it’s been awesome, man.
CPB – When did you get started playing baseball.
LJ – Actually, I started when I was.3-4 years old. Since I was little.
CPB – You’re from Panama. Is that where you have been playing throughout?
LJ – Yeah, I’ve been playing my whole my life actually, in Panama. That’s what I grew up. I played like in tournaments and stuff like that but everything’s actually been in Panama.
CPB – How did it come about when the Blue Jays signed you? When were you first on their radar, so to speak?
LJ – My Dad told me. My Dad actually was my agent at the time, you know. We used to talk all the time and he was like ‘Hey, you got some teams (interested in you)’ I was like 14 years old at the time when the Blue Jays actually first came to me. And so like scouting and stuff like that they reached out to me and my Dad and they started talking. We got a pretty good relationship, you know and everything just came through. I just waited a couple of years till I was 16 and I just signed with them. I actually liked them really.
It’s been an awesome journey. I’m not going to lie. It’s been awesome this four or five years that I have been with the organization. It’s been amazing. I can’t complain about anything. All the stuff that we have. All the people are there for us helping us, making us better as players and as a person too. So everything’s been awesome with the Blue Jays so far.
CPB – Who is the signing scout for you or were there other scouts involved? Or was there just one?
LJ – It was like a lot actually. There’s some from the Dominican Republic, the one from Panama actually was the first one to reach out to me. There’s Andrew Tinnish, he’s actually from Canada. It was like a group of scouts actually that reached out to me and they started talking and having conversations with me and my Dad.
CPB – You got started in the Gulf Coast League, which is a pretty good promotion at your young age and you bypass the Dominican League. What was that like, your first year in pro ball?
LJ – It’s kind of different coming through amateur baseball, you know, at 15-16 years old. I was actually 17 when I played my first year in the Gulf Coast League. It was actually a big jump, I’m not going to lie. In the Gulf Coast League you got guys, like the average age is like 21-22 years old facing guys like me at 17. You know it’s a big jump but actually I found my way in the league and I was feeling really comfortable. it wasn’t like the greatest year for me but I actually learned a lot and I took that year into this next couple of years with the organization. It has been an amazing jump from that unill now.
CPB – You were also with Bluefield, how was that season for you?
LJ – That was actually my greatest season I have had so far. When I was in my second year actually with the (organization), that was my first year as a good season. It was really good actually being able to start traveling a lot and you know you got the whole crowd in Bluefield, all the the people supporting you. It was amazing actually because in the Gulf Coast League, you don’t play with people in the stands and actually playing in Bluefield you got more people. It’s more like actually professional baseball, so it was really good. I liked it a lot and it was an amazing year in 2019. It was awesome, it was awesome.
CPB – In 2020, COVID hits. How did you get through it?
LJ – Man it was a tough year actually. We report to spring training. Everything was like, ‘Okay, ready to go, 2020.’ I think it was like two or three weeks in, COVID started to break out and they sent us back home. I was like, ‘Okay, this is going to last like at least three months’. It actually ended up lasting the whole year. It was tough, man. I’m not going to lie. That was the toughest year that every player had in their career. We just had to find a way to get through that and just pass it to the next year, 2021.
CPB – What was it that kept you going through that time?
LJ – It was tough. I’m not going to lie, man. It was a lot of actually mental stuff. You used to think a lot like, “Hey, like damn! I have to actually start like practicing!” But because we didn’t know when it was going to end or anything like that so it was more like a mental thing and actually just being ready for whatever to be honest. But then you know, months went by, months went by. The coaches were like talking to us and telling us like we might just have like instructional league at the end of the year and we’re going to have these rules to follow because of the spread of COVID and all that so it was actually a pretty tough year.
CPB – You get to 2021 and you finally get to play ball in Dunedin. You had a terrific season. Your on-base percentage – over half the time you’re getting on base. What was the key to your success?
LJ – I mean, when I started 2021, it was a really tough year. I actually started the year really slow coming out. I was actually injured in spring training and then I missed the first week or two of the 2021 season. Then I injure myself again. I lost like almost 2 1/2 months and then after coming back out of that, it was actually a great year. I worked my way up, you know, I started slow but I actually worked my way up and actually ended up (playing) really well. I actually felt really good. Then the team invited me to the Fall League to play with all these prospects, all these guys with experience so it was actually a really good year. I’m really happy about the fact that I actually had a really amazing year last year.
CPB – What’s the key to your plate discipline or your batting eye. I mean, you have a good command of the strike zone but how did you develop that?
LJ – I mean, I’m always trying to keep things as simple as possible at the plate, you know. You’re not trying to go out there and be like thinking too much at the time. So I actually try to keep (things) as simple as possible. For me. I think of it this way. Think everything you need to think about before you step into the box, and then when you’re there, you see the ball, hit the ball. That’s what I think. It’s been important to me to get to the point where I am right now at the plate, but you know, we always keep working, trying to get better every single day and it’s been really good.
CPB – Things have been improving for you in Vancouver. What’s it been like playing here at Nat Bailey Stadium so far?
LJ – It’s been amazing. I can’t say anything else. It’s been amazing. The fans, oh my God, they’re great. I can’t complain about anything, the weather, everything. Everything has been amazing. I love Vancouver so yeah, I can’t say anything else about it. It’s just amazing.
CPB – Well you have one home run coming into this year. You have a couple already (in 2022). It looks like the power is starting to come. You got a double (May 17 vs. Tri-City) for your 21st birthday. Has that been a really big focus for you to try to maybe get a little bit more pop in your bat?
LJ – Yeah, it’s been a process actually. You know like coming out, there were years I didn’t even like hit homers at all but I just trust the process. I was like, ‘Okay, I’m going to start getting older, have more experience. The power is going to come, you know?’ And to be honest, I haven’t really changed anything at the plate. Maybe a little bit approach-wise but the swing and everything’s been the same. Like the coaches said, ‘Power is supposed to come.’ So now everything is actually coming right into place so I just, you know, keep being myself to be honest.
CPB – Did you get a little bit stronger over the off-season? You gained a little bit of weight but some good weight?
LJ – I was working on that actually to gain a little bit of weight, but you know, in a good way so I was actually focusing on that like this past off-season, the past two off-seasons actually. Coming into great shape so I can just perform really well and it’s actually been showing that I actually have been performing really well these last two seasons. So I’m trying to keep it going. And to be honest, it’s actually been helping me a lot to gain weight and actually helping with my exit velos playing, like my power and everything so it’s been showing up.
CPB – As far as defense goes, you’ve played mostly at shortstop. You also played some second base. Do you have a preference?
LJ – I mean my whole life I’ve been playing shortstop, you know, but I actually like short and second base. I like to consider myself playing everywhere, you know. like middle infield. But shortstop is my go-to. I’m not going to lie to you. Shortstop is my go-to.
CPB – I just wanted to ask about your Arizona Fall League experience. That must have been an honor for you at a pretty young age to go and play against other top prospects. What was that whole experience like?
LJ – it was an amazing experience. It actually helped me a lot. I grew up as a player actually with more experience and everything. I’m not going to lie. It was a really good experience facing all these guys, actually some big leaguers (who are) actually playing right now In the big leagues. They just got called up, some of them, and just being able to share with them moments in the clubhouse, at the field, practice, whatever. I actually learned a lot throughout the whole Fall League so it was an amazing experience. And you know, I’m just happy about all that that came last year.
CPB – How would you describe yourself as a player if you had to give yourself a scouting report?
LJ – Man, tough question. Now I consider myself (to have) really good bat-to-ball skill, a really patient guy when it comes to hitting too, you know. Defensive-wise, I consider myself a really good defender. Overall, actually, I mean like a smart guy playing the ball, playing the ball game too, you know. I’m just trying to keep doing the same thing. And if I can improve some stuff, I will. It would be better for me as a player.
CPB – Did you have a favorite team or a favorite player growing up?
LJ – Growing up, it used to be Derek Jeter actually. I used to like him a lot, the way he played and everything. Now since he’s not (playing), I don’t have a favorite player right now, I just like watching them all play so be honest right now, you have a lot of guys out there playing the game the right way and doing amazing things. So it’s just fun to watch them.
Uniform Number – Also wore number 8 with Dunedin in 2021
First C’s Hit – Opened the 2022 season with a leadoff single on Opening Day in Spokane April 8
Walk-up Song – “Levitating” by Dua Lipa
Instagram – @joy17jimenez
Thanks a million to Leo Jiménez for taking part in C’s Chat and to C’s broadcaster Tyler Zickel for arranging the confab.