Analysis

White Sox: Get to Know Rookie Jacob May, and his Journey to Becoming the Sox Opening Day Center-Fielder

The Chicago White Sox entered camp with a myriad of prospects vying for their crack at a spot on the teams major-league roster when the team breaks camp this week, some more well-known than others of course. White Sox fans all around clamored for their first look at the new top-prospects in town back in late February, when Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Michael Kopech, and Yoan Moncada made their way onto the field at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Arizona.

At that point, little discussion was centered around the open center field spot, vacated by the trade of Adam Eaton in December at baseball’s annual winter meetings in Washington, D.C., and most figured that a prospect with less hype surrounding him, Charlie Tilson, would assume the open spot on the Opening Day roster.

Tilson, 24, a native of Wilmette, Illinois was slated to assume the role after recovering from a torn hamstring that he suffered in his major-league debut in August of last season in Detroit. That was of course, until Tilson developed a foot stress reaction in the opening days of camp, an injury attributed to the rehabilitation process involved with his recovery from last August’s torn hamstring.

Tilson was removed from baseball activities and scheduled for a reevaluation before he ever stepped onto the field for a Cactus League game this spring, and eventually was placed in a walking boot, which he is expected to remain in for the duration of the month of March at minimum.

Enter another local spring camp invite, former Philadelphia Phillies outfielder and Park Ridge, Illinois native, Peter Bourjos. Bourjos, the presumptive next in line for the job, had himself an impressive camp this spring.

Bourjos hit .313 for the White Sox this spring, but the 29-year old outfielder didn’t perform well enough to win the center field job, as a dark horse whom no one expected to break camp with the team, Jacob May forced the White Sox hand in trading Bourjos to the Tampa Bay Rays late Monday night, paving the way for May to assume the job.

May in no way, won this job by default, or because he is younger than Bourjos – He flat out won the job, and quite frankly, even if Tilson was healthy this spring, it would have been a tough decision to make for Rick Renteria this week, because the often under the radar May, certainly opened some eyes in Arizona.

May posted a .349 batting average for the White Sox in 25 games this spring, recording a slash line of .369/.524/.893. Over the course of the spring, May put together an impressive campaign that included one home run, two doubles, three triples, and three runs driven in, while stealing four bases. May’s impressive spring campaign saw him record six multi-hit performances, including a four-hit game against the Dodgers on March 18, and a three-hit performance against the Mariners on March 14.

May, 25, was taken by the White Sox in the third round of the 2013 MLB Draft, the same draft that saw the White Sox select their new starting shortstop for much of the next decade, Tim Anderson. May played his college ball at Coastal Carolina, the home of the defending NCAA College World Series Champions, and has some impressive Major League Baseball ties that include his grandfather, Lee May, as well as his uncle and former White Sox favorite, Carlos May.

The Williamsport, Pennsylvania native got a pretty cool text message this week from his uncle Carlos May, telling Jacob that he was “excited for him”, and warning the 25-year old outfielder to “get used to the cold weather”.

Now, after a series of events that no one saw coming, and a solid spring campaign, May will get his first taste of the cold Chicago weather this spring, as he will patrol center field at Guaranteed Rate Field, until at least the return of Charlie Tilson.

But May is not worried about his stay in Chicago being a short-lived one because of players behind him, or the doubts that he can win the job on a long-term basis by some. May has been underrated since his time began in the White Sox minor-league system in the summer of 2013. As soon as the White Sox drafted May, they asked him to take some time playing some developmental baseball in Australia. May of course, willing to do whatever he needed to do, packed his bags and headed down under for the summer to play with the Sydney Blue Sox.

In 2015, May was named to the Team USA roster for the Asia Premier 12 Tournament. Even after May started in center field and hit lead-off for the United States national team, the switch-hitting speedster still went largely unrecognized.

Source: Masterpress/Getty Images AsiaPac

In 2016, May played in 83 games for the White Sox Triple-A affiliate, the Charlotte Knights and recorded a .266 batting average and a .309 on-base percentage to go along with 19 doubles, a pair of triples, a home run and 24 RBI for the Knights. May also swiped 19 bases for the Knights in 2016, bringing his minor-league total up to an impressive 118 stolen bases over the course of 359 minor-league games.

Over the course of his 359 games in the White Sox farm-system, May posted a .273 batting average and a .332 on-base percentage, while recording 73 doubles, 17 triples, 13 home runs and 121 RBI. May, even with good production throughout that ranks of the White Sox farm-system, still sits at number 27 on the White Sox list of top-30 prospects, according to MLB Pipeline.

In a few short days, Jacob May will get the chance to finally prove all of the doubters wrong when he opens the season as the starting center-fielder for the Chicago White Sox, and probably the first hitter to step in the box against the Tigers Opening Day starter, Justin Verlander.

Whether May sticks with the White Sox in center field or not, his emergence this spring is the type of spring romance novel that all baseball fans strive to fall in love with each March, and you can’t help but get behind the kid when the new season opens on Monday.

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