PHOENIX — When teams evaluate options for bench spots, defensive versatility often times increases the value of a player.
Luis Jimenez is hoping that rings true with the Milwaukee Brewers as he is chasing a spot on an Opening Day roster for the first time in his career.
Claimed off waivers from the Los Angeles Angels in October, Jimenez feels most comfortable at third base and first base, but he is also capable of playing the corner outfield spots, second base and even shortstop and catcher in a pinch.
"I’m here for whatever they need me to do," Jimenez said. "This is my goal. I told them I’m ready for whatever they need from me.
"I think it will be a good move for me. I think it is good for me to see something new and see if I can get an opportunity and the chance I’ve been looking for."
Jimenez has spent eight years in the Angles system since being signed as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2005.
After three strong seasons between the Dominican Summer League and the Pioneer League, Jimenez was forced to miss the 2009 season due to a torn labrum in his right shoulder. He bounced back to hit .288 with 14 home runs and 81 RBI between Class A and Class A advanced in 2010 to earn a spot in the Futures Game.
Jimenez has hit well at every level of the minor leagues, carrying a career .299 minor-league batting average with 101 home runs and 512 RBI in 697 games. He made his big-league debut with the Angels in 2013, appearing in 34 games with a .234 batting average. The 27-year-old played in 18 games with Los Angeles in 2014, hitting .162 in 37 at-bats.
While Jimenez struggled in the big leagues last season, he continued to tear up the upper levels of the minor leagues, hitting .286 with 21 home runs and 76 RBI with Triple-A Salt Lake.
"It was a tough year because I was up and down, up and down," Jimenez said. "It was tough mentally to stay strong. I didn’t start like I expected to, but I stayed strong and I stay positive. I said, ‘You know what? Let’s keep going. Let’s keep grinding and fighting until the end of the season.’ I think that’s what helped me last year. I think I handled it really well."
Milwaukee is weak at third base behind starter Aramis Ramirez, which made its waiver claim of Jimenez make sense.
Jimenez also provides the Brewers insurance at first base in case Adam Lind is unable to stay healthy or struggles against left-handed pitchers. Jonathan Lucroy may play some at first base against lefties, but Jimenez would provide another option, as he hit .306 with an OPS of .907 against left-handers in Triple-A last season.
If he makes the team, Jimenez would have a chance to play quite a bit since Aramis Ramirez won’t play anywhere close to 162 games in what is expected to be the final season of his career.
"He’s a nice piece," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "Hopefully he’s a guy that can be in that mix.
"You talk about Jimenez and what he does against left-handers. If he is on the team, you know you will have a good (pinch hitter) when they put in a lefty."
The Brewers are expected to keep five position players in addition to their projected eight starters. Backup catcher Martin Maldonado and outfielder Gerardo Parra are locks for two of those spots, leaving three bench openings.
Either Hector Gomez or Luis Sardinas will likely make the roster as the backup shortstop. Gomez is out of minor-league options, while Sardinas is just 21 years old and probably could benefit from time in Triple-A.
With Parra capable of playing all three outfield spots, the Brewers are unlikely to keep a fifth outfielder. That hurts the chances of Logan Schafer and Shane Peterson. There’s a good chance the final two roster spots will come down to Jimenez, Jason Rogers, Matt Clark or Elian Herrera.
Adding to his value, Jimenez was signed as a catcher and could serve as Milwaukee’s emergency option behind the plate.
"I wish everybody could make the team," Jimenez said. "But you know how it is. There are a certain number they only can take. You just come here and do the best you can. After that they have a decision they have to make on who they want to take. Right now, I’m just doing the best I can, playing my game to see if I can get an opportunity here."