In the late 90s, D’Angelo Jiménez was considered one of the best prospects in baseball. Minor league experts ranging from ESPN.com’s John Sickels to BP’s Rany Jazayerli rated Jiménez as a better prospect than Alfonso Soriano, another young infielder in the Yankee system. But in January of 2000, Jiménez suffered severe injuries when his car collided with a bus on a highway in the Dominican. The injuries sustained robbed him the opportunity to compete for a position in the Yankees infield, as Jiménez was coming off big seasons in the Triple-A International and Dominican Winter leagues, and was expected to make the big club that season. He’s since moved through the White Sox and Padres organizations, with both clubs souring on him due to periodic struggles at the plate and on defense. His overall profile remains that of an effective hitter with moderate power and good plate discipline, making Jiménez one of the most underappreciated players in the game.
In 2003 he landed in Cincinnati, putting up a solid line of .290/.365/.421 in 290 at-bats with the Reds. This winter in the Dominican the 26-year-old infielder had arguably the best offensive season for a second baseman in the history of the league, winning the batting title (.360), flirting with the single-season OBP record before finishing at .485, and also slugging an even .500, all while playing half his games in a pitcher’s park. Baseball Prospectus recently chatted with Jiménez before a game between the Azucareros del Este and the Licey Tigers.
Baseball Prospectus: For a player with such obvious abilities, and also, one who was a good prospect, your career has been marked by instability: three organizations (Padres, White Sox, Reds) in three years. Why is that? Why do you think you’re unappreciated?
D’Angelo Jiménez: Well, I’d sure like to know why. Sometimes you get to a team and start doing a good job, and sometimes, as you know, all players can get into a slump. What has happened with me is that, when I’ve fallen into those slumps, the organization seems to lose faith in me. It’s like if all of a sudden they realize I’m just not good anymore, almost inexplicably.
BP: Don’t you think it could be a perception thing, maybe some sort of “attitude” label or something like that?
DJ: With every team I’ve played for I’ve tried to do the best I can, and give the best of myself as a player. But sometimes you just get into a slump and the teams start to doubt your abilities and suddenly try to deal you somewhere else.
BP: How would you describe the White Sox experience, when they put you on waivers to bring in a player like Roberto Alomar, who, in terms of performance, was having a worse season than you were, and in the end was not an upgrade at the position?
DJ: What happened in Chicago took me by surprise. I was hitting very well the first couple of months, and then I slumped, and suddenly I was unwanted. Anyway, thank God I went to Cincinnati where they gave me the chance and I did well there.
BP: Speaking of the Reds, you just signed a new contract with them. How do you feel the Reds have treated you so far?
DJ: I feel comfortable with the Reds, they made me a good offer and I took it. It’s good to put that behind you. I’m sure this is going to be an interesting and important year for me.
BP: Let’s go back in time a little. The years you were with the Yankees they had Derek Jeter at short, Chuck Knoblauch was still with the team, and there was also Alfonso Soriano. Did you ever get the feeling that your future was not there, that they were not really interested in you as an option but more as trade bait?
DJ: No, not at all. I always thought that I was going to be a Yankee and that my future was with them. I never thought otherwise. I had good performances in the minor leagues and was always among the organization’s best prospects. After the accident, though, they started to doubt a little if I ever was going to be the same. At that time, of course, I didn’t have the same ability, probably because I tried to recover too quickly.
BP: You mean you rushed your rehab process?
DJ: Yes, I probably didn’t take the time necessary to recuperate, because that same year I was going to make the ballclub as a utility infielder. The year before, I played well after my call-up in September, and they told me they were not planning to resign Luis Sojo, to give me the opportunity. But that didn’t happen at all. I was convinced that if I was able to come back from the injury they were going to bring me to the big club. That’s why I say I worked excessively; I did all my exercise programs daily, and then some more. I think in the end that affected me.
BP: So you think the accident changed all the future plans they had for you?
DJ: Yes, definitely. After that, I was convinced that my future was somewhere else. I felt their doubt.
BP: The accident had to be difficult for you. You had a great year at Triple-A, came to the Dominican league and had an MVP-type season with Licey and, all of a sudden, there you were wondering if you were even going to be able to walk again, not to mention play baseball again.
DJ: No doubt it was a terrible moment, but I was determined to come back, and I did. I was always confident I was going to move ahead and put everything behind me.
BP: From a baseball standpoint, what negative effects did the accident have in you? What did you lose physically?
DJ: I lost many skills at that time, but I’ve been able to recover them almost 100%. I lost lateral movement and range, and as a result I was moved to second base from my natural position, which was shortstop. I lost power, bat speed and bat control. Now, I’m doing a lot better in all those areas. This is going to be a key year for me because, as it was late last season, I feel that all my skills were almost 100% back to normal.
BP: You’ve mentioned that next year is going to be a key and important one. What are your goals for the upcoming season?
DJ: My main goal is to keep my weight normal because I do have a tendency to gain weight, even though I’m playing. My desire is to have the weight controlled, good health, and no injuries. I also want to avoid prolonged slumps, become more consistent.
BP: Your hitting approach is a little unusual for a Latin player–and a Dominican one in particular–because you have very good knowledge of the strike zone, and take a good number of walks. Have you always been that kind of hitter, even from a young age, or it was something you learned in the Yankees system?
DJ: I’ve always had that patience at the plate, since I signed as a professional and started to play in the minor leagues. I think it’s one of the key aspects that has kept me in baseball; taking pitches, working the count, trying to get a good pitch to hit, drawing a walk when it’s not there. I’ve had great results with this approach. I’m having a good season here (in the Dominican) because of that, and in the major leagues it has helped me a lot, because the teams I’ve played for, they’ve used me as a leadoff hitter most of the time. I want to keep doing those things, because teams are putting a lot of emphasis on them.
BP: Speaking of your performance on the Dominican league, did you know you had a chance to break the single-season OBP mark? Did you feel ignored in the MVP ballot?
DJ: I had no idea about the record until now–nobody mentioned it to me before. And about the MVP, well, what can I do? I missed the last few games of the season with the calf problem and maybe that hurt my chances.
BP: Have the Reds spoken to you directly about their plans next season?
DJ: Signing my contract was very important, and a good signal from them. Dave Miley has shown confidence in me to the point where he even used me in the third slot in the lineup. At the time I was getting on base a lot, but nobody was driving me in, so he was looking for ways to make our lineup better and gave me that kind of responsibility. I’m very happy to be (with Cincinnati) and my plans are to arrive at spring training in good shape, healthy, and try to win a position. I say this because, even though I signed a good contract, that doesn’t mean I cannot lose the position. The idea is to keep improving, try to have a good season and (hopefully) get a multi-year deal.
BP: You mentioned the confidence that your manager Dave Miley has shown in you, does that mean that he finally forgave you for a famous home run you hit against his team a few years ago in the Dominican league?
DJ: (Laughs) I guess he has. It was a great moment, one of the biggest thrills of my career.
(Ed. note: In the eighth game of the 1999 championship series between Licey and Escogido, Jiménez, as a pinch hitter, hit a game-tying home run in the 8th inning against the Escogido Lions–managed by Dave Miley–which helped force a deciding ninth game. The Tigers went on to win that game in dramatic fashion the following night, with a 9th-inning rally that Jiménez also started).
BP: Your defense is one of the issues some people think you must work on. What specific aspects of it you think you need to improve?
DJ: Well, those problems with defense are basically here in the Dominican. Back in the States, I think I’ve always played good defense. But here, I don’t know what happens. During the regular season I played well, but all of the sudden (here), I’m making these errors that make me ask myself “What’s going on with you?” How can you make these errors?” Also, here in the Dominican, there’s more pressure because almost everybody recognizes you on the streets, and people stop you and ask you about the errors. It hurts sometimes, but I try not to pay attention. It’s part of the job.
(Ed. note: Moments after our conversation, Jiménez started the game at shortstop for the Tigers, because of the return of Luis Castillo and the absence of Cristian Guzman, who had a sore shoulder. He’s now played a week’s worth of games at shortstop, where his defense, ironically, has been excellent.)
BP: Finally, tell us about Licey, how do you see the ballclub shaping up right now?
DJ: We’ve gathered a fantastic group of guys–Carlos Peña, Luis Castillo, Ron Belliard, Eric Byrnes, Cristian Guzman, Timo Perez, Juan Cruz, Jose Jiménez, José Offerman, Guillermo Mota, Felix Rodriguez, among other big leaguers–and I like our chances to make it all the way to the championship and the Caribbean World Series. But, of course, the other teams are very good, so we must keep playing good baseball and bring the championship back to the Licey fans. We need to break this tie with the Eagles to become, once again, the team with most championships.
For news, updates, and stats from the Dominican Winter League, check out the league’s official Web site–the articles are in Spanish, but OBP is still OBP. Carlos Lugo is the TV voice of the Estrellas de Oriente ballclub and has worked for FOX the last five Dominican Winter League seasons broadcasting games. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.