More questions than answers in White Sox outfield

Injuries create talent shortage, making lineup cards far harder to fill out with any conviction

When everybody is healthy, it seems pretty clear that the outfield alignment of Nicky Delmonico, Leury Garcia and Avisail Garcia does the best job of balancing the White Sox’ present-day and future interests.

  • Delmonico: Gives the White Sox good, battling plate appearances. I’m guessing he’s not going to develop the power to carry substandard defense in left, so they may as well see how much he can improve with the glove to exhaust his starter credentials.
  • Leury Garcia: Isn’t bad in center field, and he’s the easily the best bat of the guys with any regular playing time there.
  • Avisail Garcia: Was an All-Star last year.

Rick Renteria differs, or maybe has different priorities. Adam Engel has taken three-quarters of the innings in center field this year despite being as ineffective as the plate compared to 2017 and far worse in the field. Renteria has instead seemed intent on preserving Leury’s utility status, and potentially at a significant cost.

Two hamstring injuries elsewhere on the roster validate Renteria’s approach with Garcia for the short term. Leury is now the best available player to handle either right field or second base in the absences of Avisail Garcia and Yoan Moncada. You’re still left with the question of whether you think Jose Rondon would be a better bet to produce than Engel (probably?), but as Rondon’s costly error/crossed wires with Tim Anderson shows, there’s something to be said for familiarity up the middle.

If Moncada can come back after the minimum amount of missed time, it should put all outfield permutations back on the table. From there, some lingering questions will have to be addressed.

Why do the White Sox believe in Engel?

When he was one of the league’s best center fielders, that question was easy enough to answer. His metrics have taken a hit this year, however, and now everything’s far more unclear. Maybe they aren’t concerned about the outs and bases he gives up by playing shallow, or maybe it’s their idea, so he loses no credit there.

But still, the offense. A sort of Stockholm Syndrome has set in when evaluating Engel, because he has gotten better in some areas. He’s cut his strikeout rate by 10 percent, chasing fewer pitches out of the zone and improving his contact rate within it. He’s always had decent discipline, and that’s playing up a little. It doesn’t feel like he’s completely overmatched at-bat to at-bat the way he was last season.

And yet even giving him credit for increased watchability, he’s still hitting just one-seventy-one, and without the extra-base bursts he had last season. That knee-bend in the middle of his swing makes him unable to cover anything in the top half of the zone. Here’s the zone profile of his foul balls in 2018 according to Baseball Savant:

His success seems contingent on whether he can foul off enough pitches in hopes that he can walk or capitalize on mistakes in the small area he can cover. He’s hitting .231/.333/.308 in May, though, so it doesn’t seem like Renteria will be more motivated to make a major shift now.

What does Trayce Thompson have left?

Thompson is hitting worse on a trip-to-trip basis than Engel — 5-for-39 with 15 strikeouts over 41 plate appearances. He just carries the threat of a home run with him. Three of his six hits have left the yard, including a sweet walk-off against the Twins.

A back injury made Thompson largely unavailable or unproductive at the MLB level the last two seasons, so rust removal was always going to be part of the deal. I’d just assumed the White Sox would let that play out in center field. Even it took him weeks for his bat to catch up, it would’ve been hard to notice it over Engel’s struggles.

Instead, Thompson has played 84 innings in right, 10 innings in left and zero innings in center. I don’t know whether Thompson can credibly play that position anymore, but center field’s barrier for entry is as low as it can possibly be, which makes it all the more confusing and/or damning as to why he’s not out there.

Is the Daniel Palka party over?

Through his first nine games, Palka has just about the perfect Large Adult Son slash line: .219/.219/.531 with two clobbered homers.

Because he’s a member of the 2018 White Sox, his production is limited to facing the Royals. He’s 6-for-11 against Kansas City and 1-for-21 with seven strikeouts and three double plays against everybody else. That homer above is the only hit against non-Royals.

His initial approach to MLB pitching has been “eat the bear before the bear eats you,” and I can understand an older rookie not wanting to risk having a whole lot of strikeouts on his record after waiting so long for a cup of coffee.

Pitchers started pitching him backward pretty quickly, though. Fun fact — here’s the average velocity on first pitches Palka has seen:

  • First 20 PA: 90.3 mph
  • Last 12 PA: 85.7 mph

Now he has to demonstrate that he can stay back, and watching his bat whip wildly through the zone, I wouldn’t count on him being able to throttle down in short order. Offensive struggles bring his defense to the forefront, and he doesn’t want that.

As long as Avi is out and Leury is needed elsewhere, it’s hard to feel great about any of the outfield combinations, especially after the top three. I guess I’d go with:

  1. Delmonico-Garcia-Palka
  2. Delmonico-Garcia-Thompson
  3. Delmonico-Engel-Garcia
  4. Delmonico-Thompson-Garcia
  5. Delmonico-Engel-Thompson
  6. Garcia-Engel-Thompson
  7. Delmonico-Engel-Palka
  8. Delmonico-Garcia-Palka
  9. Delmonico-Thompson-Palka

After the top three, the outfield starts running out of MLB talent. After the top six, the pitching staff suffers collateral damage.

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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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Soxfan2

Ryan Cordell’s injury is really a buzz kill. Would have liked to have seen his tools play out at the MLB level. Hopefully we see him in the final month or so.

gibby32

Good analysis. It’s hard to understand why Engel is getting the rope that he is so far. Offensively, Leury got off to a slow start, albeit without many opportunities. More recently, with more opportunities, he is looking reasonably good offensively. I know that we’re rebuilding, but Ricky should put out a more watchable product, and that’s Leury.

Trooper Galactus

Thank you for not even suggesting a Palka-Engel-Thompson outfield. Fans can only take so much.

lil jimmy

Well, I’m going on Wednesday and I am hoping for an Engel free outfield. Is that too much to ask?

Lurker Laura

Probably.

PauliePaulie

It’s decisions like Engel over L. Gar that make me nervous about how things will be handled when the games “matter”.

zerobs

When the games matter, Jim’s list gives you a good idea who will be here and who won’t. Delmonico shows up the most, followed by Leury.

PauliePaulie

When the games matter none of the OF’s in this article will be here. It’s not the names. It’s the decision making.

Patrick Nolan

Maybe, maybe not. There are plenty of examples of fringe guys evolving to stake their claim to regular playing time on a contending team.

If there’s one concern (not specifically directed at you or your comment) that I’ve had about fans’ approach to this rebuild, it’s that they tend to sort guys into “matter” and “don’t matter” buckets, when the truth is that guys can — and very likely will — jump between the two. There’s a lot of people that seem to think the White Sox will be fine if the current roster (minus Giolito, Lopez, Moncada, Anderson) is completely jettisoned because we can rely upon the highly-regarded prospects to put us within a big acquisition or two of being a World Series contender. That approach both 1) seems to imply an overstatement of the likelihood of individual prospects panning out and 2) understates the difficulty the White Sox are going to have if they can’t turn some of these “let’s give ’em a shot in a rebuilding year” players into future fixtures.

Josh Nelson

Especially the second part. I can’t see Hahn over turning 20 spots on the 25-man roster in two years. Some of these guys have to get better.

Otter

Yolmer says hi. Matt Davidson maybe? And let’s not quit on Delmonico or Trayce (or even Engel just yet).

The reality is, only a few of these “let’s give him a flyer” guys are going to turn into anything. And a lot of the roster will be turned over in two years; it has been built that way.

Right Size Wrong Shape

I’m quitting on Engel and Trace. Yolmer, Nicky, Leury, Anderson, Moncada and Abreu can stay. I’m still leery about Davidson, but I like his at bats a lot better this year.

PauliePaulie

I don’t know how my comments about being concerned about poor managerial decision making has now elicited 4 responses all centered around players.

Lurker Laura

Patrick did say his comments were not directed toward your post. These conversations take 90-degree turns sometimes.

I have similar concerns about managerial decision making. Lots of things I like about Ricky, though, so I’m watching him develop (or not) like I am the players.

Patrick Nolan

I tried to qualify it by saying that I wasn’t specifically targeting your comment…it was just the “When the games matter none of the OF’s in this article will be here” that triggered the thought, even if what I had to say was orthogonal to your point.

MrTopaz

I’m sorry to hear about your feet.

zerobs

Aren’t the managerial decisions about players? They seem to be handling Engel the way they handled Leury in 2014; maybe they’re trying to gain an option year since they aren’t competitive this year (and probably not next year).

Otter

They’re both not good so I wouldn’t worry too much.

zerobs

None of the mentioned players is a lock for the 2020 major league roster. Delmonico has a shot because of his plate discipline, and Leury because of versatility. If Engel isn’t optioned to Charlotte this year he could still be on the 40-man in 2020.

lil jimmy

Delmonico is also the rare LH hitter on this team.

jorgefabregas

Thank you for using the Large Adult Son meme. I wonder if Palka is also our Big Wet Boy?

Lurker Laura

I had to look up both of those.

Anohito

It’s certainly not spring anymore for Engel. That desert mirage shouldn’t have fooled anyone and yet it did. A damn shame. Also was hoping TT’s return wouldn’t be this bad. There’s still time though maybe? What a painful outfield situation. But at least its total rebuild year 2 right?

Otter

Thompson’s BABIP is under .100. The strike outs are a major concern, but I’m not ready to DFA him just yet.

Delmonico and Thompson are probably the only two worth watch for longer term purposes, and I’m being generous with Trayce. I guess Garcia could be added, but even though he won’t cost much in two years, still probably money better spent else where in 2020 seeing that he struggles to get on base and doesn’t have enough/any power.

I’m about ready to bail on Engel too, but I also understand why they might want to give him 200 PA before deciding what to do, there might be plate discipline there and he showed some pop in the minors. He’s not young, so I get that, but it wouldn’t be unheard of if someone like Engel needs a lot more reps to become an okay hitter… and if there’s a year to do something like that, this is it.

lil jimmy

Engel has found himself the perfect situation. He is an outfielder, not good enough to be in the Majors. Playing for a team, not good enough to be in a Majors.

Greg Nix

You and I must be watching different Leury Garcias. I’m a big fan of the one who’s put up a league average OBP, SLG, and ISO over the last year-plus, while playing a cromulent CF and maintaining multi-positional flexibility. He wouldn’t be an ideal starter on a good team, but you could also do a lot worse.

In a larger sense, and to pnoles’ point above, I think this horrific start has made people too down on the Sox roster as a whole. A majority of the position players could play for a contender:

– Abreu and Moncada could definitely start for a playoff team
– Avi, Anderson, and Castillo could arguably start for a playoff team
– Yolmer, Leury, Delmonico, and Davidson could all be nice bench pieces for a playoff team (with some potential for more)

It’s easy to get down on the White Sox right now, but it’s mostly a collection of garbage pitchers that’s keeping them from looking promising.

35Shields

Given that Yolmer has been a nearly league average hitter and put up 2.8 WAR since the start of last year, I’d argue he falls into the “could arguably start for a playoff team” grouo

Greg Nix

I think Yolmer could be a second-division starting 2B, but is stretched as an everyday 3B. Would love for him to prove me wrong.

Trooper Galactus

He’s on pace to post about 4 bWAR in 500 PAs. That’s not a guy who’s stretched as a third baseman, that’s a decidedly good player.

Greg Nix

I love Yolmer, so I’m very upset you’re forcing me to argue against him.

Yes, obviously if he is worth 4 wins then he is a decidedly good third baseman. But he’s been the second-luckiest hitter on the team by xwOBA. If his results matched his batted ball data, he’d have a wOBA of .315. For comparison’s sake, Kole Calhoun put up a .315 wOBA last season, which translated to a .244/.333/.392 line. His value is also largely dependent on being a top-5 defensive third baseman thus far, and he doesn’t have nearly enough innings for those numbers to mean much yet.

So a 4-win season would require him to measurably improve his quality of contact (or continue to be lucky) and maintain his small-sample size defensive numbers. I’m more comfortable saying he’s a 2-2.5ish win player with some potential for more, and is a better fit at 2B.

Trooper Galactus

I agree he would be a better fit (and likely more valuable) back at second base, but there’s no denying he’s an elite defensive talent at third base so far and his bat is hanging in there. Even if he’s pretty much a league-average bat (which is underwhelming for a third baseman) his defense would probably still make him a solidly above average player. I’ve been a believer in Yolmer for several years now, and he’s consistently shown the ability to make adjustments and succeed at every level given enough time. We’re seeing that play out in the majors.

The Wimperoo

Agree for the most part. What’s Jerry Owens up to right now?

tommytwonines

But the garbage pitchers embiggen our chance of a great 2019 draft pick. 

metasox

Leury has shown enough that I thought he deserved to start until he showed he shouldn’t. Still disappointed with the decision. And even if his future is super-utility player, he could use the reps in CF.

Have a hard time seeing Delmonico even on the bench of a contending team given he can only cover LF – and not necessarily that very well

Otter

Engel has much higher upside than Garcia. The Sox reasoning is sound, even if the results have been poor.

Otter

In the minors Engel showed more pop and better plate discipline, plus he has more years of control. A CF who can hit .270/.340/.430 is more valuable than one who hits .270/.320/.380 assuming the gloves are roughly the same.

EDIT/adding: Of course, the story has been much different in the majors since the start of last year.

Otter

Garcia’s the first half of last year was the first time Leury’s shown he might be a major leaguer. I know he got hurt, but he was bad in the second half. I’m curious as to why you say he’s league average as he doesn’t walk and really doesn’t have much pop (again aside from a few (weeks? months?) in 2017). His ISO was below league average last year and he’s below league average across the board this year so far. He’s already 27 and only has two more years of control left… I’m sure there’s a role for him in the majors here and there, but he’s someone that really shouldn’t be hard to find either in FA or for cheaper down the road—assuming his first half last year isn’t an outlier.

I agree with your overall point that there’s more here than people realize on the roster. Maybe Delmonico never hits for power, but it’s far too soon to write him off. Maybe Davidson’s contact issues are too big to over come (or he sucks against everyone but KC), but again, too soon to write off. Yolmer, who I’ve doubted for years, I’m a few weeks/months away from saying that I was wrong on. If anything, Sox fans should be celebrating the fact that they might have unearthed an average/above average player in Yolmer.

Greg Nix

I think you’re still undervaluing Leury, but it doesn’t seem like we’re that far apart. I used league average, because that’s essentially what he’s been.

League average OBP last year was .324, this year it’s .318. Leury’s OBP over the last two seasons is .317. I used the Fangraphs definition of league average ISO (.140). Leury’s ISO over the last two years is .145, but looking at the new ball numbers you’re right in that he’s about 15 points below actual league average. So let’s call him 5% worse than average at the plate — with his defensive chops and flexibility, that’s still a very useful player. Kiké Hernandez is maybe a good comp for what Garcia could provide to a contender.

Otter

That’s fair, and not someone to write off.

Anohito

Simply amazing to hear. Rest and recover well Lord Farquad.

gusguyman

This is great news. I remember reading that Farquhar joked that he couldn’t believe the Sox put him on the 60 day DL. I admire his desire to get back on the field but I am also glad the doctors are saying not this year. He can still pursue his goal, but it won’t be risking his health.

Lurker Laura

Outstanding.

asinwreck

Given the diagnosis, this is best-case scenario. Wow, how fortunate that he fell in the dugout and had immediate medical care.

GrinnellSteve

This is the best news I’ve heard all day. Come back dealing in 2019 Danny!

Trooper Galactus

I will be astonished if he can return to being a major league pitcher. Best of luck to him in that endeavor.

PopeDonnPall

I don’t get the outrage about Leury in CF. Is better than Engle? Yes. Is he someone who coud be starting CF piece in a contender? NO. He make some flashy plays but also a lot misreads, bobboes and blunders out there too. I don’t love rhe reads or istincts. Brings some of those same skills during batting and fielding as well.He’e perfect doing what it is? Filling in where there are neeeds. Let him split time with Adam, only for this yer, then next year go back to super backup

zerobs

The bigger issue with Leury is his contract expires sooner than the players he’s competing with. He’s more likely to be traded than sticking around for when the games matter.

As Cirensica

This outfield has no value in the future the WhiteSox is building. Perhaps Leury is the only one with chance to stay for some more years. I am quickly losing faith in Avi as prior year looks more like an outlier.

sgp2204

The outfield is the last thing I’d be worried about – winning isn’t the goal right now, and reinforcements are coming. Eloy is tearing the cover off the ball in AA, they have 4 guys raking in High-A, and Robert is coming back from injury soon. Between those 6, I feel pretty comfortable with the direction they are heading in the outfield.