The Curious Case of Adam Engel

It’s no mystery the White Sox need a good right fielder. It’s been almost a decade since they had a semblance of consistency in the likes of Jermaine Dye or even Alex Rios. And no right fielder has come close to what Maglio Ordonez did in his eight seasons with the Sox. Since 2013, there have been five different opening day right fielders: Dayan Viciedo, Adam Eaton (primarily center field), Ryan Cordell, Nomar Mazara, and Avisail Garcia, a promising player but injury prone when with the team. Viciedo was a bust, Eaton was traded, Cordell was never meant to be a starter, and Mazara just didn’t pan out yet.

But while the fans, and front office, focused on Mazara’s disappointing performance, there, stepping in to fill the gap, was Adam Engel.  That’s right, the other half of the right field platoon, Adam Engel, who has proven himself to be valuable off the bench player. His speed and his gold glove caliber defense have helped win games, but it’s his offense that has kept him from a full-time starter role.  He has a .222 batting average, 21 home runs, .618 OPS, and 88 RBI’s over his four years with the team. Those numbers leave a lot to be desired but take a look at last season.

In 2020, Engel batted .295, with 3 home runs, 12 RBI’s and an .811 OPS. Of course, his numbers look better having only played 36 games in a shortened 60 game season but when comparing with his first 36 games any other season, he looks like a completely different player. Engel is not on a path to become a superstar but his stats have continued to get better each year. In four seasons, his average has gone up from .177 to .295. His OPS jumped from .517 to .811. His slugging percentage has risen from a .282 to .477. He gives the Sox an opportunity to play “small-ball” on a team that thrives on home runs. The list goes on and on. Plus, he just looks so much more confident at the plate.

The White Sox were 24-12 when Engel made an appearance. He was there for all the big games of 2020. He hit the first home run in the first White Sox postseason game against the Athletics. He caught the final out in right field for Giolito’s no hitter. He was three for four in Abreau’s multi-homer game against the Cubs. And even though it was a preseason game, he crushed a floating fastball into the left field bleachers against Cubs’ pitcher Kyle Hendricks to start a 6 run 5th inning at Wrigley. That means the world to Sox fans.

He brings the energy and has a drive to get better, be better, and to win, much like free agent catcher James McCann who struggled during his five seasons with Detroit. Not so since coming to the Sox. McCann is now a top ten pitch framer and a guy you definitely want in the batter’s box. It takes time and practice.

We know Engel is not the long-term solution to Rick Hahn’s powerhouse team, but he is definitely a piece to his puzzle. The market is ripe with free agent outfielders looking for a home and we know the Sox are going to do their best to ink one. And they should. But they should avoid expensive “popular” free agents like Jackie Bradley Jr or Joc Pederson who have been stuck on or below status quo. They want to win now with a proven player like George Springer in right field. But in the case that the White Sox fall short in negotiations, can’t reel in a guy like Springer, spend too much money on a free agent pitcher, or maybe miss their plane to winter meetings, Sox fans should have a faith in what Engel can bring to the dish in 2021. Not every player is a super-star but not every win needs one.

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If the White Sox really want to be annual contenders, they’re going to have to provide their pitchers with plus-plus defense. And Adam Engle has the tools to do just that. On a team with this many sluggers, Engel’s offensive numbers aren’t as necessary, although the progress he’s made at the plate is quite encouraging. I would love to see Springer in RF on opening day, but if they swing and miss on him, I would absolutely have no problem with Adam Engel and his gold-glove caliber defense being in the W Sox OF every day. And if they do sign Springer, I think the “best” W Sox line-up would often have Engel in LF and Eloy as DH. The W Sox were better when Engel and McCann were on the field. McCann looks like he’ll sign elsewhere and they keep Engle in the dugout until the 8th or 9th inning. Jeesh. When us old-timer fans get talking defensive W Sox OF’s, the first two names that always come up are Landis and Berry. Adam Engel is as good or better than them in the field and with his hitting progress, isn’t far off to being comparable at the plate either. I hope Hahn and LaRussa realize that. Thanks for the article.