The outfield group for the White Sox will feature a few new faces in 2019. One of them, most notably, will be Eloy Jimenez as the clubs top prospect will be set to make his debut this season. It’s likely that his debut will occur in the middle of April or shortly after.
The full squad reported to Glendale today, so we are getting closer to seeing the White Sox participate in live games. Keeping that in mind, let’s take a look at what the outfielders will bring to the table in 2019 and some of the storylines surrounding this group.
Guyer vs. Engel, who makes the cut?
Before the club breaks off into the regular season, there will be a roster spot battle during Spring Training between Brandon Guyer and Adam Engel. Both guys bring something of value to the team, Engel’s being defense and Guyer’s being the ability to hit left-handed pitchers well. Against lefties throughout his career, Guyer is slashing .274/.376/.449 with 24 home runs and 82 RBI. Guyer has also posted a .311 BABIP, .362 wOBA, and a wRC+ of 130 against left-handed pitchers. Defensively, he’s average, but he has the ability to play any of the three outfield spots which can add to his value a little more.
It’s not secret that the White Sox love Adam Engel and his defense, it’s what has given him the opportunity to have a lot of playing time so far. If Brandon Guyer wants to grab a roster spot over Engel, it will require him to have a very impressive Spring Training. He will have to perform well at the plate and in the field and even then, it’s no guarantee that the White Sox will move forward with him over Engel. As of right now, I will give the edge to Adam Engel and I believe he will be the guy the White Sox go with when they break out of Spring Training.
Projected Opening Day starters
Since I projected Adam Engel to win the roster spot battle, he will be the starting center fielder for the White Sox on Opening Day. Engel has once again brought a new swing to Spring Training and we will get to see if it will make a difference in his offensive performance heading into the season. Adam Engel has struggled at the plate so far throughout his career and he’s always trying to tweak his swing. That could be a good thing or a bad thing, however, he just needs to find something that makes him comfortable and once he does he has to stick with it for more than one year. If Adam Engel is the regularly featured center fielder throughout the year, he should have another season where he’s towards the top of the Gold Glove finalists and maybe he will be able to bring home the hardware this time around.
2019 Steamer projections according to Fangraphs: .218 AVG, 14 2B, 7 HR, 32 RBI, 23 BB, 103 K.
Barring any surprise signing that happens during Spring Training, Jon Jay looks set to start at one of the corner outfield spots for the White Sox on Opening Day. Jay will be the veteran in what is a young core of outfielders this season. He provides value as a great fielder and a guy that has gotten on-base at a high clip (35%) throughout his career. During his nine years in the MLB, he has been a .285 hitter with 36 home runs and 327 RBI. Recently, he’s not performing like he did in his earlier years, however, Jon Jay is a very good stopgap signing and only costs the White Sox $4 million in 2019. His batting average took a dip last season, but he still managed to post a .330 OBP and is showing that he can still be a productive all around player. If he eventually gets bumped out of a starting spot, he can be a very good fourth outfielder and will still provide his veteran presence from the bench.
2019 Steamer projections according to Fangraphs: .252 AVG, 8 2B, 2 HR, 15 RBI, 13 BB, 39 K.
Taking over the other corner outfield spot on Opening Day is White Sox fan favorite, Daniel Palka. He made his MLB debut last April and was initially going to be plugged into the lineup while some of the other outfielders were coming back from an injury. Palka made the most of his opportunity and eventually became a regular player throughout the rest of the 2018 season. Flash forward one year and Daniel Palka is now set to be an Opening Day starter. 2019 will be another season full of #PalkaPower, however, he also has another thing in mind entering this year. Daniel Palka wants to work on defense and he entered Spring Training with a slimmer frame to help him with his footwork out in the field. If Palka can improve his defense, he will provide a lot of value this season and will make a statement as to why he should continue to be a regularly featured outfielder. Regardless, I expect Daniel Palka to see a lot of playing time during the 2019 season, but if he gets bumped out of a starting role, he could be used frequently as a platoon guy and pinch hitter.
2019 Steamer projections according to Fangraphs: .231 AVG, 15 2B, 23 HR, 64 RBI, 36 BB, 146 K.
What will the outfield look like when Eloy gets called up?
As it was previously mentioned, Eloy Jimenez will finally make his highly-anticipated MLB debut during the 2019 season. There was speculation that he was going to be called up at the end of the 2018 season, but White Sox fans had to patiently wait until this year to finally see the guy that has dreams of winning multiple World Series’ with the White Sox. Eloy is likely headed for left field once he’s called up and will stay there throughout the rest of the 2019 season. Eloy has set a lot of expectations for himself as he gets ready to take the next step in his career. One of them being that he wants to win the American League Rookie of the Year award this season and I don’t think that’s too farfetched of an expectation. I think Eloy will win the award (likely over Vlad Guerrero Jr.) and I would be pretty surprised if he didn’t. He’s a very polished hitter for his age and to be honest, he was MLB ready last year. Him being held down in the minors last season will motivate him more and I expect big things out of Eloy Jimenez during his rookie year.
2019 Steamer projections according to Fangraphs: .293 AVG, 28 2B, 24 HR, 82 RBI, 35 BB, 99 K.
So what will the outfield look like once Eloy gets called up? If the White Sox have a goal of being a much more competitive team in 2019, then I think Jon Jay will get moved to center field and Adam Engel will head to the bench. This would give the White Sox an outfield of Eloy Jimenez, Jon Jay, and Daniel Palka when that time comes. This is where it gets tricky. The White Sox already have Leury Garcia projected to be a bench player this year. That means that one of him or Engel will have to go to the minors or the Sox might have to find a team willing to trade for one of them. I believe Leury would stay at this point because he’s more of a utility guy, and can play multiple positions in the infield and outfield. However, playing devils advocate here, Leury might be easier to trade than Engel because of his ability to play multiple positions. There’s also the possibility that the White Sox could hang on to both of these guys if they send Nicky Delmonico to the minors. The White Sox already have a roster crunch in the outfield heading into the regular season with their current group, and they will continue to have a roster crunch once Eloy makes it to the majors.
Prospects to watch during Spring Training
Luis Basabe will be participating in his second Spring Training with the White Sox. Once considered as a “throw in” piece in the Chris Sale trade, Luis has now made a name for himself and has all White Sox fans excited about what he brings to the organization. He’s a great fielder, has a cannon for an arm, hits from both sides of the plate, and is starting to develop quite a bit of power. Luis Basabe is on the brink of being promoted to Charlotte, and there’s a chance that he could break out of camp and head there if he puts together a solid spring. If Luis Basabe performs well in Charlotte this year, there’s a good chance that we could see him make his MLB debut in September when rosters expand.
Micker Adolfo had Tommy John surgery last year, so it’s unclear how much he will participate in Spring Training. On a positive note, he began throwing again during the first few days of camp. If he isn’t able to hit during a workout, he’s in the field working on catching fly balls with the other outfielders. Even though he can’t fully participate in the workouts, he’s still trying to spend as much time with the team as he can. Micker is oozing with tools and has the potential to eventually become a staple in the White Sox outfield of the future. Micker Adolfo is likely heading to Winston-Salem to start the 2019 season, but if all goes well, he should head to Birmingham at some point this year and will probably end his 2019 season there.
Luis Robert is another guy that’s going through his second Spring Training with the White Sox. Last year was tough as his spring ended early due to a thumb injury. This year, it’s all about staying healthy for him and tapping into his power that he started to show in the Arizona Fall League. Because he missed so much time last season, I expect Luis Robert to begin the 2019 season in Winston-Salem. However, he will end up in Birmingham this year and that’s most likely where he will end his season. If Luis Robert can stay healthy throughout the entire year, I expect big things out of him and he will climb the ranks of the MLB’s top prospects.
Blake Rutherford was around the team last spring, but he didn’t see much playing time. This year, he will be featured much more during Spring Training and it will be fun to watch him go against some tough competition. 2018 with Winston-Salem was the best season of Blake Rutherford’s young career. His .293 batting average was the best he has had since he was in rookie ball. He also posted a career-high in doubles (25), triples (9), home runs (7), RBI (78), stolen bases (15), and walks (34). Blake will spend most of his 2019 season in Double-A and he has the chance to start his season there if he puts together an impressive spring.
Luis Gonzalez will be with the major league club during Spring Training for the first time in his career. He was an under the radar prospect when he was drafted, but he has been Mr. Consistent since then and he continues to make a name for himself. Luis is one of the older prospects in Hi-A right now, so because of his age and production, he will have the opportunity to head to Birmingham to start the 2019 season if he performs well during Spring Training even though he hasn’t played a full season in Hi-A. If not, expect Luis Gonzalez to be one of the first few guys to earn a promotion to Double-A once there is movement throughout the farm system. Having Luis participate in Spring Training will give the White Sox a look at if he’s ready to immediately take that next step in his development.
What to expect out of this group during the 2019 season
The outfield group for the White Sox should be much improved in comparison to last season. Eloy will obviously provide a big boost to this group once he gets the call. Before then, this group will be better defensively with the addition of Jon Jay. This group won’t be one of the strengths of the team, but they will be fun to watch. The White Sox have a ton of outfield talent in the farm system and we will start to slowly see those guys hit the majors and get much closer to it during the 2019 season.
White Sox fans have been patiently waiting to see some of the teams top prospects hit the majors. The 2019 season will be a milestone for Eloy Jimenez as the clubs best overall prospect will finally be with the major league team during the regular season. Buckle up, White Sox fans. This team is going to be very fun to watch in the near future and the 2019 season will give us the debut of perhaps the biggest piece of the rebuild.
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