top of page

Conversations with the Herd: Leo Jimenez

By: Brian Frank

Twenty-two year-old Leo Jimenez has come a long way in the game of baseball in a short amount of time. The young shortstop is currently ranked as the Blue Jays’ fifth best prospect by MLB Pipeline. He remembers being introduced to the game by his grandfather when he was just four years old.

“My grandpa always loved baseball,” Jimenez said in a recent interview with The Herd Chronicles. “He just never had the chance to actually play. But he was a follower of baseball. He took me to this little academy near my home. They put me in and I remember hitting a little groundball to the short stop/third base side and I started running to third base. I still remember that. It’s one of those little memories I’m always going to have with me.”

Jimenez is ranked as the Blue Jays fifth best prospect. Photo Credit: Brian Frank, The Herd Chronicles

Jimenez grew up refining his game at a baseball academy in Panama before eventually signing with the Blue Jays organization when he was just 16 years old.

“That was a lot of emotions to be honest,” he said of the day he signed. “I play baseball just because I love playing baseball, not because I had the hope that I was going to get signed. But when you start getting to the age of 13 or 14 years old and a lot and people start telling you you’re going to get signed. But it was actually fun – and signing with the only team from Canada, a different country, it was awesome.”

After signing, Jimenez headed to the Dominican Republic to play in the Tricky League, a league designed for recently signed Latin American prospects.

“I was there for almost two months,” he said. “Then I came to the U.S., to Dunedin to the (Blue Jays) complex in September of 2017 for the instructional league. Then in 2018, I came to minor-league spring training and made my pro debut.”

Jimenez entered his first minor-league season at just 17 years old. One of the major challenges he encountered was becoming comfortable speaking English. Jimenez grew up speaking Spanish in Panama, but had some background knowledge in English thanks to his grandfather.

“My grandpa speaks fluent English,” Jimenez explained, “so when I was little, I’d say like three or four years old, he would always talk to me in English but I would not talk back to him because I was afraid of saying stuff the wrong way. Even when I signed with the Blue Jays, I was afraid of speaking English, but then I started getting more comfortable with my teammates who speak English. I finally got to the point where I was like, alright, I can say that I speak fluent English.”

In his first professional season, Jimenez played in 37 games for the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays, slashing .250/.333/341, as one of the youngest players on the team.

“It was tough,” he said. “Like I said, I was kind of afraid of speaking and breaking the barriers of the language. And you’ve got all these guys around you that speak English. But I was out there just playing baseball, to be honest. I was not worried at all about speaking. I was more worried about what I needed to do on the field. Then everything came together. The more time I spent with them, I got more comfortable – and everything came together and I had a good year.”

The next season, he played for the Bluefield Blue Jays in the Appalachian League. One of just three 18-year-olds on the team, he improved his production from the previous season, slashing .298/.377/.377. One of the biggest adjustments to playing at a higher level was that, unlike in the GCL, the teams in the Appalachian League were much more spread out geographically, leading to longer bus rides for road trips.

“It was different,” he said. “The whole logistics with the travel and road trips. It was different. But I liked it, to be honest. It was a big difference coming from the Gulf Coast League and playing the same teams over and over again. Then to go to another level and have to travel and play different teams from other divisions that you never played before. It was fun.”

Jimenez is known as a solid defensive shortstop. Photo Credit: Brian Frank, The Herd Chronicles

Then came 2020, when the excitement of his first big-league spring training was quickly dampened when everyone was sent home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I was an extra in a big-league game,” he remembered. “We went there and then we came back. It was around 6:00 pm and they texted us and said they were going to send us home. So yeah, they sent us home and I just spent the whole Covid year in Panama. Then in September they called us to an instructional league – but there were a lot of protocols to follow and they only called up certain guys. Basically, we couldn’t leave our room at the hotel.”

He came back in 2021 to have his best season up to that point, slashing .316/.517/.381 at Low-A Dunedin. His patient batting eye was also on full display, as he drew 51 walks and only struck out 35 times. Unfortunately, a shoulder injury shut him down for much of July and August.

“It was my first long season,” he recalled. “I was really excited about showing up and showing what I was able to do. It was a big learning experience because you’ve got to try to keep your body in shape. I had a rough year that year (health wise) and couldn’t play in as many games as I was supposed to – but still when I was healthy I was just going out there and doing what I knew I had to do. I went out there and had a good year.”

His season was extended when the Blue Jays sent him to the Arizona Fall League to play for the Mesa Solar Sox, where he once again found himself as the youngest position player on the team at just 20 years old.

“To be around guys who played Double-A and Triple-A, and I’d only played A-ball – I was going to say it was crazy, but it was exciting,” he said. “Just being able to hang with those guys and learn what their routines were and kind of just hang out with them all the time – it was an amazing experience. That clubhouse was just full of guys who are now big leaguers. It was a great learning experience for me.”

His power numbers ticked up a bit during the 2022 season playing for the High-A Vancouver Canadians. After hitting one home run through his first three seasons, he hit six for Vancouver.

“The organization talked to me about being able to hit the ball with more power,” he said. “But I was just focusing more on my mechanics more than the outcome. I was just hitting the ball and the ball was flying. It was a great example that I can work on my mechanics and just let the results come to me.”

“Vancouver is just awesome,” he said of his 2022 season. “You get to play in Canada. The atmosphere is different. Everything is just different. Of course, you have long, long road trips. You have to take eight-hour bus rides, as an average time. But at the end of the day, playing in Vancouver is awesome. You have the whole crowd there. It was almost full every single game of our home stands. It was just a great experience.”

Jimenez was promoted to Buffalo late last season. Photo Credit: Brian Frank, The Herd Chronicles

Last season, he increased his power numbers again when he hit eight home runs for the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats, slashing .287/.372/.436.

“It was a great year,” he said. “There was even more learning. It was like a whole other process of learning. It was the season that I played the most games in my whole minor-league career. At the Double-A level, it’s full of prospects, top ten prospects in every single organization out there showing up. So it was awesome to face those guys and be able to play against them. But the big take away that I had is just be who I am as a player and just let the results come.”

He was promoted to Buffalo at the end of August and got his first taste of the International League. He learned a lot in his short time in Triple-A, despite being one of the youngest players on the Bisons roster. Only infielder Orelvis Martinez and starting pitcher Ricky Tiedemann, who was promoted to Buffalo during the last week of the season, were younger than Jimenez.

“I can say that that jump at the end of last year (to Buffalo) was huge for me,” Jimenez said. “This is the closest level to the big leagues – so you can imagine. There’s a lot of experience here. A lot of guys have some big-league experience. So, yeah, it was a good taste of what is going to come.”

“It’s a big jump. Level wise, you have great players in both leagues, but here you have more experience. Guys come in and they actually know what to do, how to prepare, they’ve got routines that they stick to the whole year, and they’re consistent with that. Especially facing opposing pitchers, guys who have been around the league that have a lot of experience and have played in the majors – they know what they want to do to you and they stick to it. I think that was a big difference between Double-A and Triple-A pitching.”

“I took it as a learning experience – and don’t let how I finished the year influence how I’m going to come into this year. I’m going to take that and I’m going to be way better than that, and understand what I’m going to face and what I can expect in this league.”

Known for not only his hitting skills, but also as a solid defensive middle infielder, Jimenez is focused on improving all aspects of his game this season.

“I think my all-around game will be a huge part of my development this year,” he explained. “Being able to go out there and develop every single side of my game and be comfortable every single day. Work hard and let the results come to me.”

He’s also excited about taking the field for a Bisons team filled with talented prospects.

“We have a lot of great talent on this team this year,” he said. “Every time I walk into the clubhouse, I see a lot of talent, a lot of young talent, guys that are here to actually win. They show up every single day with the same mentality of – hey we’re coming to the ballpark to win games. That’s what fans can expect from us, that we’ll go out there every single day and give everything we have on the field to win ballgames.”


bottom of page