Prospect Retrospective: D'Angelo Jimenez
D'Angelo Jimenez was signed by the New York Yankees as a free agent in 1994, out of the Dominican Republic. In 1995, the 17-year-old Jimenez hit .280/.355/.449 for the Gulf Coast League Yankees, impressive performance for a player his age in his first try at pro ball. At this point, I would have rated him a Grade C or C+ prospect, intriguing but still a long way from being ready, and in need of more data from higher levels.
In '96, Jimenez moved up to the South Atlantic League, hitting .244/.322/.343 for Class A Greensboro. These weren't great numbers, but he was just 18, and playing not-awfully in full-season ball. I gave him a Grade C+ in the 1997 book, noting that he was very young and had a lot of time to improve.
Improve he did in '97, hitting .281/.375/.406 for Class A Tampa in the Florida State League. His production was up across the board, but most notable was a dramatic improvement in his plate discipline. In 352 at-bats, he drew 50 walks with 50 strikeouts, compared to 56/113 ratio in 537 at-bats in '97. He also made huge strides defensively, cutting his errors from 50 to 21. I moved him up to Grade B+ in the 1998 book, rating him the number 27 prospect in the game.
Jimenez split '98 between Double-A Norwich and Triple-A Columbus, hitting .270/.377/.375 at the first stop (40 games) and .256/.350/.404 at the second (91 games). Once again he earned a Grade B+. His walk rate continued to improve, and he held his own in Triple-A at age 20, the sign of a potential star.
After his 1999 season, stardom looked even more possible. Jimenez hit .327/.392/.492, with 26 steals, for Triple-A Columbus. I moved him up to Grade A-, and the big question among prospect hounds at this point was whether or not Jimenez was a better prospect than Alfonso Soriano. I thought he was, due to Jimenez's superior plate discipline and more reliable defense. I had Jimenez as the number 11 prospect in the game, Soriano at 23. It looked like Jimenez would take over at second base for the Yankees heading into 2000.
But that's not what happened.
In January of 2000, Jimenez broke his neck in a car accident. He was lucky he wasn't paralyzed. He rehabbed quickly and returned to the field in July, but he didn't look like the same player in 37 games split between rookie ball, Class A, and Triple-A. He looked slower and more tentative in the field, certainly understandable given the nature of the injury.
Jimenez returned to regular action in 2001, hitting .262/.340/.393 in 56 games for Columbus. Blocked by Soriano by this point, he was traded to the Padres in June and saw regular action for them the rest of the season. He played well at times, but also gained a reputation as being "lazy" and something of a clubhouse distraction. This seemed odd to outsiders, since Jimenez did not have this sort of reputation during his prospect days. But things can change when people get to the Show.
The Padres gave up on him quickly, shipping him off to Chicago. He wore out his welcome with the White Sox rapidly (again, despite playing very well at times), and they traded him to the Reds in '03. He had a decent year in '04, but is off to a slower start this year. There haven't been the same complaints about his personality in Cincinnati; his work ethic seems to be back where it was earlier in his career.
Jimenez has not turned out to be as good of a player as his minor league record implied. But the car accident stands out as the big point of discontinuity. Before that, everything looked great, and it's possible that he'll simply never be the player he was before the accident. Even so, he can still be effective at times, combining on-base abilities with occasional flashes of power and speed.