Alzolay, Steele recall good times in minors with Eloy

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Outfielder Eloy Jimenez hasn't changed since his time in the minor leagues, according to former teammates Justin Steele and Adbert Alzolay.

    Outfielder Eloy Jimenez hasn't changed since his time in the minor leagues, according to former teammates Justin Steele and Adbert Alzolay. AP File Photo

 
 
Updated 8/28/2021 8:35 PM

Cubs fans need no reminder about how bright the future seemed five years ago.

But it went beyond winning the World Series. That same year, the 2016 South Bend Cubs finished 84-55, which suggested more talent was in the pipeline.

 

Of course, the star of that team was Eloy Jimenez, who hit. 329 with 14 home runs and 89 RBI. He was the brightest prospect in the Cubs' organization at the time. A couple of current Cubs who came through the minors with Jimenez are pitchers Adbert Alzolay and Justin Steele.

"We signed in the same year and then we pretty much played together every year until he got traded to the White Sox," Alzolay said. "We were living together, being roommates and everything.

"The day that he got traded, I got called up to Double A. So we played together for four years. We built a really good relationship, we treated each other like brothers, always in contact. Pretty much we grew up together in this business."

Asked to describe the 19-year-old, South Bend version of Jimenez, Steele and Alzolay were in full agreement.

"Same way he is now, just a big kid," Steele said.

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"Just a big, big, big baby," Alzolay said with a laugh. "Still the same guy. Hasn't changed."

Two years earlier, Alzolay and Jiminez made their professional debuts together in the Arizona rookie league.

"He was what, 6-3, probably like 200 pounds?" Alzolay said. "He was 16 years old, big boy. Watching him hit in BP was impressive when he was 16 years old."

Alzolay is from Venezuela, Jimenez from the Dominican Republic. So while the pair quickly bonded with Mississippi native Steele, Alzolay and Jimenez were introduced to life in the United States at the same time. Asked what was the biggest adjustment, Alzolay said food.

"Back home, we are used to pretty much rice and beans and chicken every day," he said. "Adjusting to the food was the hardest thing, I think. Not even the language because Eloy knew the language before getting here, same as me."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Obviously in hindsight, the 2017 trade sending Jimenez and pitcher Dylan Cease to the White Sox for pitcher Jose Quintana was a bad idea for the Cubs.

But the '16 South Bend Cubs offer another lesson about baseball fortune. Besides Jimenez, Alzolay, Steele and pitcher Dillon Maples -- currently on the injured list -- no one else from that squad has made a splash in the majors.

It's a cautionary tale as the Cubs get excited about their rebuilt farm system following the flurry of trades at the deadline. Many of the Cubs' highest-rated prospects are currently playing in rookie leagues or low A Myrtle Beach. There are a lot of steps to master before they can even think about being a major league contributor, let alone a star.

"That's part of baseball," Steele said. "Everybody has their own path or journey to the big leagues and how they get there. It's just part of it."

Steele said he tries to stay in touch with former teammates who didn't make it as far. But they'll always have that memorable summer in South Bend.

"I actually came to a few games up here," Steele said. "I came and watched (Jake) Arrieta vs. (Noah) Syndergaard. That was really fun to watch.

"It was a good year. It was just a good group of friends. We were all friends in that locker room. We all got along, everybody loved each other. It was just a good group."

Bote to IL:

Before Saturday's game, the Cubs placed David Bote on the injured list with a sprained right ankle, which happened when he stepped on a ball during Friday's batting practice. They brought up infielder Alfonso Rivas and pitcher Scott Effross from Iowa, while designating pitchers Jake Jewell and Ryan Meisinger fro assignment.

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