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The specter of an Avisail Garcia return looms over the White Sox outfield, although maybe not immediately. He’s checked off several boxes over his first two games with the Charlotte Knights since returning on Tuesday:
- First game
- First hit
- First walk
- First appearance in right field
There are a few more to go — first full game, first full game in right field, first consecutive full games, and maybe a stolen base attempt just to test his acceleration. Also, you’d like to see him do a little more than 1-for-5 with a walk and two strikeouts. Performance is never the primary objective in a rehab stint, though, and he does have one more walk in Charlotte than he accrued over his first 18 games in Chicago.
When Garcia does return — I imagine a week from now if all goes well — it’ll mark the start of an outfield crunch. The process will repeat when Leury Garcia is ready to return from a knee sprain later this month.
Trayce Thompson is easily the most vulnerable. His resume includes a walk-off homer, a game-winning single off Chris Sale and a beautiful suicide squeeze, which makes it even more amazing that he’s hitting .120/.169/.222 over 46 games. Missing the cutoff man for no good reason in the eighth inning Wednesday night didn’t help.
That leaves Adam Engel, Charlie Tilson and Daniel Palka battling for two spots in the outfield spots, and they’ve all shown different skills and glaring flaws.
Adam Engel: He was hitting .274/.330/.411 over 105 plate appearances from the start of May through June 6, when he tweaked his hamstring running down a fly in right center against Minnesota. He’s 1-for-9 with an HBP and three strikeouts since returning, which could be any three-game stretch. However, his hitting mechanics are far from ironclad. Like first-generation Sony Discmans on a car dashboard, they’re not pretty even when they work, and the slightest jolt can render them inoperable. I’ll give him another series before forming an opinion, since his May offense and more successful defense of late makes him an easy starter.
Charlie Tilson: He’s redundant with Engel in a lot of ways, even if the production takes a different shape. He’s left-handed and has a better hit tool than Engel. Then again, his ability to put the ball in play results in fewer walks, and his defense takes a back seat to Engel’s. When they’re in the same outfield, you have two guys who can cover ground, but are severely underpowered in the hitting and throwing departments.
Still, he has his standalone assets. A 2-for-3 night — one a lucky infield single, the other a deserved triple — raised his average to .264. As we’re seeing with Kevan Smith, sometimes it’s just nice to watch a guy who doesn’t ask too much from his contact. When the Sox acquired him, he looked like a guy who could hit .280, but maybe lacked the ability to give that average some calories. After spending April removing the rust, he’s pretty much on that same pre-injury track, and I’d like to see him start another week, with a couple games in center.
Daniel Palka: He’s gone a few days without an accident in right field, and he’s drawn three walks over his last seven games, both of which resemble progress. He’s also 2-for-24 with 16 strikeouts over his last seven games, which is the kind of slump you might expect from his brawny swings.
In Palka’s defense, he’s faced Jose Berrios, Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, Carlos Carrasco, Adam Plutko and Trevor Bauer over that stretch.* Plutko is the only one without name-brand recognition and Palka drew a couple walks that night, so maybe this is just baseball’s food chain in action:
(*It’s impressive that the White Sox are 4-3 over these particular seven games.)
The White Sox face another tough one with Mike Clevinger today, but the Detroit series could offer a respite, depending on how many lefties the in-flux Tigers rotation throws at them. Then again, if Palka isn’t standing a chance against both good righties or ordinary lefties, he’ll have to workshop his approach to be useful. I’d like to see him a start another series.
So that’s 3-for-3 in “let’s see more from him,” and assuming Garcia’s rehab stint is a successful one, this is the last week such a request can be accommodated so easily. Playing Palka every day and giving Tilson a couple starts in center would make the most of it. It’s possible Palka only traffics in extremities, whether it’s exit velocity, defensive reliability or hot streaks/cold spells, so he gets time to get out of this slump. Tilson, meanwhile, would finally give the Sox the Engel alternative they’ve been lacking if 1) Tilson himself is more than a mirage and 2) Engel again requires an alternative.
We should then have a better idea of which player is better suited for bench work. The answer is probably “any of them,” but the fact that it’s up in the air is a small victory among more frequent real ones.