Adam Engel clobbered two home runs in the White Sox Spring Training game against the Mariners on Monday, and he currently leads the White Sox with four home runs this spring. Yes, THAT Adam Engel.
The White Sox center fielder hasn’t just been putting the ball over the fence lately. In 33 plate appearances this spring, he’s batted .276/.364/.759 with 4 walks, 2 doubles, and the previously-mentioned 4 home runs. He’s quickly becoming a much more interesting topic of discussion, especially in the context of the position battle with Ryan Cordell, who has also had a nice spring so far.
So, Adam Engel has been mashing this spring. Why is this a big deal? Well, it’s not. Unfortunately, it’s just Spring Training, and one good game and/or a solid couple of weeks is no basis for assumption or inference at any point in a baseball season, but there’s a reason why it’s sparked some conversation among the folks who have been paying attention.
It’s worth mentioning that Engel batted .166/.235/.282 in 2017 over the course of 336 plate appearances, which is bad. Really bad. This is worthy of some panic, too, because there aren’t too many signs suggesting an impending march upward. It’s not likely that he’s going to become a major threat at the plate at any point in the near future like the Spring Training version of Adam Engel that’s been on display for the past couple of weeks.
However, there is an optimistic route.
Adam Engel is fast. In fact, he’s really fast. In the right light (or from the right “Engel”, if you will), it’s certainly not out of the question to slap the “80-grade speed” tag on him, which is a fairly rare feature for players. Statcast measured his average sprint speed at 29.3 feet per second, which falls in the top tier of MLB players. This elite speed makes Adam Engel a potentially dangerous weapon for multiple reasons.
The obvious reason is his ability to be an excellent base stealer. Engel, who once stole 65 bases in a single minor league season, was 8-for-9 in stolen bases in 97 games with the White Sox in 2017. Definitely efficient, but with limited volume because of factors that kept him bottled up, like the lack of green lights he had been given and the inability to get on base in the first place.
Blazing speed also provides a nice foundation to be a top-notch center fielder. It’s no secret at this point that MLB teams place a lot more defensive emphasis on positions like catcher, shortstop, and center field because of the level of involvement at those positions. Because of this, it’s not mandatory for players at these positions to be overwhelmingly productive at the plate in order for them to provide at least some value to a team.
This is important, because Engel was very good defensively in 2017. Statcast measured him at 16 Outs Above Average (OAA) for the season, with four 5-star contributions like this memorable catch in August. That OAA total was good for third in MLB, despite playing fewer than 100 games. By that measure, a faint argument can be made that he was better defensively than everyone not named Byron Buxton in the outfield for the 2017 season.
Adam Engel’s ability to provide value in other places means that he may only need to be replacement-level at the plate to become a very solid starter. The hot start is a very encouraging thing to see for the one gaping hole in his game.