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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.
Ok Daniel Palka hits BOMBS https://t.co/dCj1o4uVnT
— Red Line Radio (@RedLineRadio) May 4, 2018
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:
After the top three, the outfield starts running out of MLB talent. After the top six, the pitching staff suffers collateral damage.