Eloy Jiménez returned to the outfield on Tuesday after dealing with a little bit of a hip issue and DHing while recovering. In a somewhat welcome wrinkle, his glove provided more highlights than his bat, as he made this sliding catch on the kind of high pop down the left-field line that he’d previously rounded off into a single, or kicked away if he’d tried to slide.
Jiménez lay on the ground for a moment too long, but not in a way that indicated he hurt himself. No, it looked more like relief that he passed a test. I don’t know if Rick Renteria is that much of a hardass, but he did talk about higher expectations for Jiménez before the game.
“I need him out there, I need him to play games out there, so he can improve,” Renteria said.
“The only way you’re going to get that is with experience out there.”
This was the argument us pro-promotion types were making for Jiménez last year when Rick Hahn cited defense as the reason to keep him down. Even though I didn’t know Jiménez’s defense was going to be this ugly, I did know that Jiménez wasn’t going to improve by not playing. Who knows? Maybe if Jiménez stumbled all over left field for a month in front of so many prying eyes, perhaps it would have been a bigger part of his offseason improvement plan.
I dredge up this history because Hahn is likely to resist promoting Luis Robert when rosters expand in a few days. He hasn’t ruled out a call-up, but he laid track for the opposite during the White Sox Talk Podcast by citing Robert’s career-high workload. Also, ratcheting down his aggression has been on his to-do list since Winston-Salem.
Here’s the problem: Minor-league pitching doesn’t teach Robert that expanding his zone hurts. Here’s Robert delivering an RBI single against Durham on Monday:
Expecting Robert to improve his plate discipline in Charlotte was like expecting Zack Collins to solve his passivity problem at Charlotte, which was like expecting Yoan Moncada to address the holes in his swing in Charlotte, which was like expecting Avisaíl García to improve his plate discipline at Charlotte. Deviating from something that works (or “works”) requires a shock.
Collins got that dose of reality this season, going 2-for-26 with 14 strikeouts in his first audition across June and July. Hahn seemed very pleased to provide one:
“There are a few things mechanically we’ve been talking with Zack about for a while about making some alterations with his swing. Zack was having a pretty decent year in Triple-A doing it his way. It was time to give Zack an opportunity to come to Chicago and continue to do things his way and see how it went.
“At the end, when it was time to send Zack back, we were in Kansas City and I was with the team. It was me, Ricky (Renteria), Todd Steverson and Joe McEwing in the room telling Zack we’re going to send you back. It was a 25-minute conversation. Usually those conversations are 25 seconds. It was a wonderful conversation, mostly led by Zack, about what he had learned, what he needs to work on and what he wants to adjust to.”
The White Sox often treat promotions as a forever proposition. That desire for permanence is what they cited in waiting a generous amount of time for Moncada, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo López two years ago, and Jiménez and Michael Kopech last year. It’s a reasonable wish, but it makes the treatment of Collins stand out. The scarcity of catchers forced their hand a little bit, but Hahn isn’t using that as a shield. No, he’s talking about the potentially transformative effect of profound MLB failure, and it makes it easy to wonder why others aren’t eligible for the same benefits.
That mystery is short-lived for Robert, because the answer is fairly clear based on the way Jiménez’s story played out. The White Sox would be willing to wave away Robert’s shortcomings as soon as Robert is willing to cap his earning potential. Until he does, the White Sox will subject you to Adam Engel and Jon Jay and hope that citizens will praise service-time conservation in their stead, because they’re prohibited from doing so.
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Setting aside this year’s prospect suppression, Collins will likely be front-and-center among September call-ups, as he represents an outside shot at solving two roster vacancies. I don’t feel great about handing him the backup catcher job next year, but with rosters expanding to 26 in 2020, there is room for Collins to serve as third catcher/lefty DH/backup first baseman and play his way into more.
Identifying the others isn’t as easy, mostly because the players who most need the 40-man roster consideration don’t appear to be long-term locks.
Danny Mendick: He went unclaimed in last year’s Rule 5 draft after a respectable showing at Birmingham, but retaining him could be a tougher task this time around as he’s hitting .281/.372/.442 in Charlotte. He’s partially a product of the environment, but he’s got his Double-A performance and a lot of experience at shortstop on his side.
Maybe the Sox leave him off the roster because Richie Martin was selected in the Rule 5 draft under similar circumstances, and he’s given Baltimore nothing. I wouldn’t get cute. The Sox have the infield reps available, especially if they get ready to move on from Yolmer Sánchez, and prioritizing Mendick’s roster situation makes it easier to hold off on promoting Nick Madrigal, who faces no 40-man urgency. Maybe you have no interest in Mendick over Madrigal, but that one actually qualifies as a baseball reason.
Yermin Mercedes: Combine his Double-A and Triple-A lines, and Mercedes is hitting .307/.378/.557 over 365 plate appearances. He’s 26, he isn’t much of a catcher and his pull-field power approach seems ripe for exploitation at the big-league level, but the Sox have rewarded lesser Triple-A performers who were just as likely to fail, so it’d be fun to see some form of meritocracy restored, especially before Rule 5 comes a-callin’.
One hang-up? Mercedes would be a fourth catcher on the 40-man roster, along with James McCann, Collins and Seby Zavala. Would you feel comfortable removing Seby Zavala from the 40-man roster in order to accommodate Mercedes now, if it came to that? I would. Zavala turns 26 today, and his 36-percent strikeout rate is Charlotte nearly doubles that of Mercedes. Maybe the Sox would prefer to have a good handler of pitchers in their system, but those guys can be found from the outside.
A long man: Hector Santiago gives the White Sox six starters on their roster so a seventh isn’t required, but Dylan Covey probably fits the bill as somebody who can throw three innings at any point. Manny Bañuelos hasn’t really shown much in his rehab stint to deserve further consideration. Maybe Kyle Kubat could take his spot on the 40-man, but there might not be opportunities to make it worthwhile.
Extra righties: Jose Ruiz is likely an automatic bid, and the White Sox haven’t been able to resist Thyago Vieira under similar circumstances. Carson Fulmer would be another guy if he’s able to return from his hamstring injury without a rehab stint (Update: He’s starting a rehab stint tonight). I’d love to see Tyler Johnson get the call from Double-A to fulfill my preseason prediction, but an Arizona Fall League stint seems more likely given the amount of time he’s missed.
Extra lefties: Caleb Frare has battled control issues when he hasn’t battled injury issues, so he’s probably out. Hunter Schryver seemed like a good dark horse in Birmingham, but he’s been put through the wringer in Triple-A. Kodi Medeiros has a 2.37 ERA in relief at Birmingham, but he’s also walked 24 batters over 38 innings. My guess: Covey’s presence frees up Hector Santiago for more strategic deployment, so Renteria already has all the lefties he can use.
Bench guys: Some combination of Ryan Cordell, Charlie Tilson and Daniel Palka are on the 40-man and available for very specific duties — Cordell for defense, Tilson for not striking out, and Palka for hoping he stops hitting grounders. Palka’s gap between Triple-A production (.270/.382/.545) and MLB production (.022/.154/.022) in 2019 will probably make him the most divisive. He turns 28 in October.
Others in need of 40-man protection: I took a stab at assessing the 40-man bubble last December, but thanks to the amount of injuries and flops, the picture has dramatically changed.
- Locks: Zack Collins, Zack Burdi, Dane Dunning
- Likely: Alec Hansen, Blake Rutherford
- First ones off: Jimmy Lambert, Bernardo Flores
- Low minors, higher ceiling: Corey Zangari, Amado Nunez
- Probably not, but since we’re here: Joel Booker, Jameson Fisher
- Already on: Collins
- Locks: Dunning
- Likely: Lambert, Burdi
- First ones off: Hansen, Rutherford, Bernardo Flores
Dunning and Lambert are at different stages of Tommy John surgery rehab, but injuries are often a selling point for a Rule 5 pick, because they make it easier to stash a player on an MLB roster. That’s how and why Burdi’s brother was selected by the Phillies and dealt to the Pirates in the Rule 5 draft ahead of the White Sox in 2017.
I’d guess that Rutherford and Flores don’t have the tools to tempt a team to overlook their spotty Double-A histories. Hansen does have a history of minor-league dominance, but he’s also spent the last two years lost in the wilderness, and he’d be a huge project even by Rule 5 standards. It’s unfortunate that the cluster of protectees isn’t as imposing as it previously appeared, but at least the Sox should be able to make room for Mendick and Mercedes without a whole lot of agony — especially if they’re already omitting Robert and Madrigal on purpose. Besides, this is the last year the White Sox will be able to expand their roster to 40, because Major League Baseball is limiting teams to 28 next year. Explore that space!