With Spring Training quickly approaching, it’s time to start looking at players who will be competing for spots in the 2018 White Sox lineup. One of the most intriguing battles will take place in centerfield.
Although Jacob May won the job during Spring Training last year, he wasn’t able to generate much offensively at the big league level. He was sent down to AAA Charlotte when the calendar turned to May. Leury Garcia stepped into the role and did a serviceable job until a sprained finger sidelined him in mid-June. That injury opened the door for Adam Engel, who played fantastic defense but endured major struggles at the plate during the second half of the season.
While Engel and Garcia will be looking to build on their performances from last year, Charlie Tilson is on the comeback trail after battling a string of injuries dating back to August of 2016. Skepticism surrounding his ability to stay healthy makes him a bit of a long shot to win the job out of camp, but he will certainly have a chance to prove himself throughout Spring Training.
Injuries limited Garcia to just 87 games in 2017. The switch-hitting utility man slashed .270/.316/.423 with nine home runs and 33 RBI. During 406 innings played in centerfield, he posted 120 putouts, seven assists, and two errors — good for a .984 fielding percentage. Garcia’s arm strength is more fit for the infield, but his speed makes him an effective outfielder as well.
— Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) August 24, 2017
Garcia has been playing in the Dominican Winter League for Gigantes del Cibao. As long as he stays healthy and continues to generate hot stretches at the plate, he should be the frontrunner for starting centerfielder on the 2018 Chicago White Sox.
— Sox On 35th (@SoxOn35th) December 6, 2017
— Sox On 35th (@SoxOn35th) December 20, 2017
— Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) May 16, 2017
— Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) June 6, 2017
Engel’s case for centerfield starts and ends with defense. He recorded 253 putouts, five assists and two errors (.992 fielding percentage) in 799 innings as the man in the middle of the outfield during the 2017 campaign. His highlight reel is filled with jaw-dropping catches and home run robberies.
Adam covers every Engel of the outfield. Valid proof: pic.twitter.com/OfUq48Q7Sn
— Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) October 26, 2017
On the offensive side, both Engel’s swing and stats were ugly in 2017. His unorthodox batting stance yielded little success as he slashed .166/.235/.282 with six home runs and 21 RBI. He struck out 117 times and drew just 19 walks in 336 plate appearances, which means something needs to change at the dish. Video footage from the White Sox hitters’ minicamp in January shows Engel’s new approach in the batter’s box.
— Kim C (@Cu_As) January 20, 2018
Although this was Engel’s first batting practice round of that particular day, I don’t believe adding a high leg kick to his approach is the solution when his swing still appears to contain an awkward hitch. It will take much more to fix the offensive woes. He must display an ability to put the ball in play and get on base consistently in order to be the everyday centerfielder for the 2018 White Sox.
Tilson, who was acquired from the Cardinals for Zach Duke at the 2016 trade deadline, has been plagued by injuries. He tore his left hamstring during his first game in a White Sox uniform and was sidelined by a stress reaction in his right foot at the beginning of 2017 Spring Training. The Wilmette, Ilinois native then dealt with a stress fracture in his right ankle during the middle of last year. He finally returned to action in the Arizona Fall League where he collected six hits and slashed .188/.325/.250 in 40 plate appearances.
Tilson still has much to prove in Spring Training and beyond, but he profiles as a natural centerfielder and leadoff hitter with a smooth left-handed swing and an ability to get on base. He showed promise while playing consistently in the Cardinals farm system, where he slashed .295/.351/.388 in 594 plate appearances for AA Springfield in 2015 and .282/.345/.407 in 395 plate appearances for AAA Memphis in 2016. On the defensive front, he recorded 316 putouts, 10 assists, and seven errors (.979 fielding percentage) through 1,098.1 innings in 2015. He followed up with 116 putouts, two assists, and two errors (.983 fielding percentage) in 494.2 innings as a centerfielder in 2016. Although Tilson probably won’t be the starting centerfielder on opening day, expect him to get a decent share of playing time for the 2018 Chicago White Sox if he stays healthy.
All statistics courtesy of https://www.baseball-reference.com/