Short bench will test White Sox’ fringe players

Everyday playing time, even at Triple-A, should inform Sox about their center field depth

The NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight will feature at least three seeds ranked lower than 8, with the 11-seed Loyola Ramblers storming their way in from the furthest off the radar.

When it comes to the White Sox’ roster, the position-player side of the equation has gone chalk.

The reassignment of Ryan Cordell seems to set that half of the roster. The Sox sent him to Charlotte on Thursday, so it looks like all 12 players likely to head to Chicago are incumbents. The forecast calls for Omar Narvaez backing up Welington Castillo, Tyler Saladino backing up the infield, and Leury Garcia serving as the supersub and Adam Engel insurance in center field.

I say “seem” because it’s not yet official. The Sox still have Kevan Smith in camp, although he hasn’t played since spraining his ankle and didn’t look like a good bet to best Narvaez before that. Matt Skole is the spring story closest to a Cinderella, in that he’s outlasted all the non-catchers. There’s good good reason: He’s hitting .333/.413/.641 over 46 plate appearances, and he should be slugging .718 since umpires called another homer a single.

Skole may be hanging around until Jose Abreu proves his hamstring is healthy. If it takes a few days to answer that question, Rick Renteria could be to blame.

A smiling Abreu said he’ll be ready to play Friday at the latest. Manager Rick Renteria gave a more conservative timeline, estimating Abreu will rest for “three or four days,” as a precaution.

When he relayed that message to Abreu, the first baseman said, according to Renteria, “Not at all. I won’t be doing that.”

Renteria sounded reluctant to act like a millennial and cut the Cord, but he offered consolation by suggesting any trip to the minors may not last that long:

“He really did a very nice job and impressed every single person in camp, all the way through the top,” Renteria said of Cordell, who hit .317/.417/.512 with eight walks and seven strikeouts. “There’s no denying he has a skill set and an ability to play. We think he’s a major league baseball player. We want to make sure he gets some at-bats in Triple-A on a consistent basis.”

This line of reasoning can ring hollow when it concerns somebody like Ronald Acuna, and carrying 13 pitchers is as exciting as drafting college seniors, but the White Sox are likely to learn faster about their fringe players with a short bench.

Adam Engel: He’s shown what he can show this spring, hitting .364/.429/.682. More importantly, he’s struck out just 10 times over 49 plate appearances. He’s gone three games without a strikeout, and has fanned just once over his last 16 plate appearances.

That’s a vast improvement for a guy who finished the season hitless in his last 27 plate appearances, and with 10 strikeouts over his final 12 at-bats. Engel may revert to that form when the temperature drops and breaking balls sharpen, but given that he’s already been hung out to dry and lived to tell the tale, there’s no harm in finding out where he now stands as a potential major leaguer and adjusting accordingly if it doesn’t work. At least he can play defense while it unfolds.

Ryan Cordell: He spent the second half of the 2017 season on the disabled list with a fractured spine. He spent the first half of the 2017 season at Colorado Springs, by far the best park for hitters in Triple-A. With two favorable hitting environments sandwiching a prolonged absence, it’s hard to have any great idea of how well Cordell could fare against advanced pitching at normal altitude and humidity.

A little bit of regular playing time at Charlotte should help flesh him out as a potential contributor. If he looks the part there, the White Sox should make room for him in fairly short order. He turns 26 next week, and he’ll only two or three weeks to reach 2,000 minor-league plate appearances for his career, so the Sox will probably want to stress-test him while he still can cover center field.

Tyler Saladino: He’s coming off a season in which he was the least impressive offensive presence in the American League. He was the only player in the American League to get 250 plate appearances without homering, and he only hit .178, sooooooooo

Obviously back issues hampered him, and he’s showing some life this spring by hitting .303/.343/.424 with just four strikeouts over 35 plate appearances. He’s a major-league bench player if he’s healthy. The problem is that he’s now had a back injury in consecutive seasons, so at some point sympathy gives way to pragmatism, and the roster will have to pass him by if he has another month or two with an empty average.

Leury Garcia: While Garcia should be the unchallenged everyday center fielder based on 2017 performances, Renteria spent more time this spring honing Garcia’s infield skills. Look at how he doled out the playing time:

  • Shortstop: 53 innings
  • Second base: 21 innings
  • Center field: 13 innings
  • Left field: 11 innings
  • Third base: Five innings

The Sox might win more games with Garcia starting in center in 2018, but at the cost of big-picture roster flexibility. As long as Garcia is more than a theoretical middle infielder, the White Sox are protected from a Saladino relapse. If Garcia can be counted upon to handle multiple infield positions, there’s room for Cordell, even on a three-man bench. And if the Sox can whittle a bullpen down to seven pitchers, then there are ways to work in a surprise like Skole, should he look more than a desert mirage.

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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Josh Nelson

If Leury Garcia can prove that he’s not overmatched at SS or 2B in a pinch that dropping Saladino for Cordell could be a move made in May. Especially if Saladino’s bat is as lifeless as it was last year.

gooch

Let’s say Salad’s bat isn’t lifeless, but Cordell and Engel are both playing well. Does that still happen anyways? Or do all eyes move to Davidson…

GrinnellSteve

I think Matty might have the shortest leash.

PauliePaulie

Engel, Davidson or Delmonico. Lots of avenues to Major League playing time for Cordell. Sorry, Lurker.

Lurker Laura

As nice as Davidson’s hair is, it’s not worth the strikeout rate.

Meanwhile, my quest to meld Engel’s defense into Nicky continues…

35Shields

Delmonico has a much longer leash than those other two IMO.

Engel, Davidson and Saladino were all awful last year. They all have one attribute that makes them worth giving another chance with a short leash – Defense (Engel), Power (Davidson), Flexibility (Saladino).

Delmonico was actually really good last year. Whereas, I could see the Sox giving up on the other three by May, I would imagine that Delmonico would get the benefit of the doubt if he scuffled at the start.

Eagle Bones

That sound like one of them good problems

As Cirensica

As the rosters spots start to get clear, am I right thinking that Davidson is the DH and Yolmer the 3b?
I would dislike if Yolmer doesn’t receive an opportunity to be regular. I strongly believe we haven’t seen the best of him. Gloving Davidson over Yolmer is a big mistake in my opinion.

Lurker Laura

I believe that’s exactly what will happen. The Sox are under no delusions about Davidson’s defensive capabilities. He’ll get occasional starts at 3B or 1B, but will mostly be DH.

Patrick Nolan

If the plan is for Davidson to get regular playing time, they seem to be under some delusions about his offensive capabilities.

I’d prefer to see the following nine players as much as possible:

Abreu
Moncada
A. Garcia
Anderson
Sanchez
Castillo
Delmonico
L. Garcia
Engel

…with relatively little Davidson. The problem with the above set of nine players is that it’s hard to justify putting Leury at DH while Delmonico plays left. In fact, in the absence of Davidson, I’d expect Nicky to get relatively few starts in left field, which is a problem because he needs to get work out there.

I don’t know where Leury will get the majority of his reps, but it’s sorta dumb if Matt Davidson is the reason he’s relegated to the bench.

Patrick Nolan

I guess it is new territory. I checked, and I couldn’t find a 68-PA sample from last season when Davidson only struck out 25% (his current spring rate) of the time.

Even if the bat were to take a substantial step forward, I think there’s still a pretty hard cap on his upside. He needs to climb decently far just to get to replacement level.

Greg Nix

Digging in a little deeper, 60 PA is where Fangraphs says K rate starts to stabilize (meaning it has a 70% correlation to the next 60 PA sample size).

Davidson and Moncada are the only position players to hit that threshold this spring, and both are striking out less than last season: Davidson has a 25% K rate compared to 37% last year, and Moncada is at 28% versus 32% in 2017.

Others within shouting distance of 60 PA’s:
– Tim Anderson: 58 PA, 19%
– Yolmer Sanchez, 55 PA, 13%
– Nicky Delmonico, 55 PA, 18%
– Leury Garcia, 53 PA, 21%
– Avi Garcia, 53 PA, 26%

If each rate was to hold in that neighborhood for the regular season, Anderson and Sanchez would see huge improvement over last year. Leury and Delmonico would be steady (maintaining their respective improvements from last year, in other words) while Avi would be back at 2016 levels (yechhh).

And as Jim alluded to in the article, Engel is striking out about 14% less than last season, but is 11 PA’s short of the stabilization threshold.

Patrick Nolan

Could all of those decreases just be the environment down there this year? I’ve heard so many quotes about how breaking balls aren’t snapping, etc.

It’s probably more work than I want to do reading into spring training stats but it seems like the trend this year is a net decrease for most.

Greg Nix

Could be. It’s still nice for the numbers to err on the side of improvement, though.

Comparing to last spring’s stats, I think Jim’s right that Davidson is the most interesting improvement, since he K’d 39% of the time in 2017.

35Shields

You’d have to normalize ST strikeout rates to the Cactus League average to be able to really compare, I’d think

joewho112

And really you need to normalize it to the the Cactus League averages for actual major leaguers

tommytwonines

Where will the 2018 White Sox rank in strikeouts for their franchise history? Just talking White Sox history now?

Trooper Galactus

If Davidson actually lowered his K rate by 12%, along with what I assume would be an attendant bump in average and OBP, that would make for a pretty darn scary hitter. But while, as Jim says, it’s prudent to see how this carries into the regular season, I’m not watching him with any interest or expectation given the results to date.

Charno

I haven’t been able to wrap my head around the lack of interest in playing Davidson everyday. Yes, his K rate and low average was a huge problem. But his lower strikeout rate this spring plus finishing 2nd in home runs by a rookie should warrant him some everyday playing time to start the season IMO. still mid 20s, lets see what he can do.

Trooper Galactus

Look at Davidson’s stats, both in AAA and MLB, since we acquired him. There are plenty of reasons for people to be skeptical. Were he still a prospect, he’d be 70+ grade power with 30 ratings for hitting and running, and probably about a 40 for fielding. A Spring Training burst isn’t liable to change those assessments.

Greg Nix

He was a win below replacement at age-26. That doesn’t usually portend a good or long major league career.

Trooper Galactus

Nor does two straight seasons in AAA hovering around the Mendoza Line (age 23-24 seasons). For his “breakout” in 2016 he still posted a sub-.800 OPS in Charlotte (.792), and that’s not good if your most likely position is DH.

Eagle Bones

Given all of the fringe guys they have to sort through, it probably makes sense to not declare “starters” at some of these positions and rotate multiple guys through to get them PT.

L2R

Of the years in rebuild, this is the year to test them all.

I like a short leash concept in general for those who are fighting their way up or down; make sure everyone gets at bats both AAA and the majors. Let take the beating on the score board now and be done with it.

Varying opinions on Sanchez at 3rd – might as well leave him there and let him prove it one way or another.

Patrick Nolan

I pretty much wrote off Tyler Saladino but I’m a little encouraged that he was actually able to hit a home run this spring. It seemed like his back had sapped whatever ability he had to do that and I was honestly not sure whether it was physically possible anymore.

As Cirensica

I am OK with Saladino as an utility infielder on a contending strong team, but now? He is stealing at bats that should go to test other players. I predict he will be released at mid season once the White Sox decides to give chances to other rookies

Patrick Nolan

The thing is — with Jake Peter out of the picture, who is he really blocking?

As Cirensica

He is blocking a roster spot

PauliePaulie

For who?

Patrick Nolan

Yes — this is the real question. Who would we want in such a seldom-used role? I’d take Cordell on the roster if we were going to play him, but Saladino figures to get the least playing time of anyone the Sox are going to carry.

As Cirensica

I will part time roles yet getting decent amount PAs among players worth looking at. Kinda like the Astros did with Marwin Gonzalez, to discover that more than a super utility, Marwin should play more and more.

PauliePaulie

Again, who is the Sox’ Marwin Gonzalez in need of that spot?

As Cirensica

Cordell, maybe Skole, maybe Tilson if not hurt, Gillaspie…all players that probably could be Salads on their own but we won’t know it until they play.

PauliePaulie

None of those players play the same position(s) as Saladino. All will have the opportunity to play full-time while the Sox find out if the player(s) who actually are blocking them are Major Leaguers.

As Cirensica

Leury plays Saladino’s positions…and more!

PauliePaulie

And just like Saladino, Leury is not the one blocking any of those players from proper development.

zerobs

Saladino will be lucky to get 4 at bats a week once the season starts. How is that stealing from anybody?

As Cirensica

He will get a lot more than 4 PAs per week. This is a team with a short bench.

Patrick Nolan

So what’s the bullpen then.

Jones
Farquhar
Soria
Avilan
Minaya
Infante
Santiago
Bummer

That about right?

loch

So Santiago is definitely the long reliever with Fulmer making the rotation? I assume the short leash is applicable here. 

Patrick Nolan

That seems to be the way they’re leaning based on the way that Coop, etc. have spoken. Don’t think it’s been definitively announced but I may be wrong.

L2R

I at a loss here so I am sure someone will explain this to me. I know Fulmer wants to be a starter but has he shown to be capable? I thought part of the current state of the rebuild was to allow players to develop and ease into it. If he is on a short leash then this starts looking more like whack-a-mole. Why wouldn’t they start Santiago a veteran and make sure Fulmer is ready in AAA?

As Cirensica

White Sox can’t stash all the rookies in the minors “developing” Carson Fulmer is 24 yrs old, and has logged enough innings in the minors to move his development into the majors….i am guessing

PauliePaulie

It’s already crowded in the AAA rotation. He’s thrown 252 minor league innings, including 142 at AAA. He’ll repeat his delivery and become a starter, or he won’t. Sink or swim time. I’m surprised the Sox are giving him this much leash as a starter, regardless of level.

L2R

But it might be best to let him answer the question of whether he is a starter or reliever rather than to have him simmering in silent anger if he is assigned. Who knows, maybe he steps up.

Trooper Galactus

Too many good pitchers on the horizon. Either Fulmer steps up now or he gets passed over. This is the last of several chances for him to stick as a starter.

Overbrook

Saladino should be the player on the short leash. He has limited upside and was dreadful last season. Cordell should be up instead. The Whitesox have a long held affectation for utility infielders for some reason.