As the 2021 White Sox get closer to the end of spring training, the roster seems to be getting clearer. The starting lineup appears just about set, and the pitching staff is coming into focus, as well. The most heated battle, at least in the minds of fans, is the battle for the backup catcher spot. Who will come out of that seems to be the last major piece of the Sox roster.
2021 White Sox: What About Adam Engel?
Yet, there is definitely a split among Sox fans as to the starting right fielder. The position has been a problem for the South Siders for several years, and they sought to address it this offseason. They signed veteran Adam Eaton early in the free-agent period and essentially handed him the job. The move made sense, as Eaton has been around, is a lefty bat and plays a good right field. While many Sox fans wanted the sox to go bigger, Eaton is certainly viewed as an upgrade over the failed Nomar Mazara.
A fair amount of Sox fans however are not convinced that Eaton is the guy for the job. In fact, after another impressive spring, Adam Engel has many fans wondering whether he might be a better choice. Engel, who has always been a stellar defender, seems to be getting better and better at the plate. He hit a career-best .295, with an OPS of .811 in the shortened 2020 season. He also showed better against righties than he had in prior seasons. He also seems to be more popular than Eaton among Sox fans, many of whom remember Eaton from his earlier stint with the Sox.
Engel, for better or worse, has always been viewed by Sox management as an excellent defensive late-inning replacement. He certainly is all of that, as he is an excellent defender. However, he struggled at the plate early in his career, and has really had to work hard to overcome the perception that he is a good field, no-hit player. Yet, as the 2021 White Sox get ready for the season, perhaps it would be helpful to take another look at Adam Engel.
Adam Engel: Should He Play Everyday?
So, for many fans, the debate concerns just who should be the starting right fielder for the 2021 White Sox. Should it be Eaton, whom the Sox invested eight million dollars in during the offseason, or Engel who has shown improvement each season with the Sox? While Tony La Russa will get the last word, let’s consider the question of Eaton vs. Engel for a few moments.
The Case For Adam Eaton
The case for Eaton is centered on a couple of things as far as we are concerned. The first is that he a seasoned veteran who knows the game and has put up some solid offensive numbers. He has a career batting average of .282, with an OPS of .775. These numbers are not bad for a guy who generally bats at the top of the order. He also hit .320 with two home runs and six RBIs in the 2019 World Series. This would suggest a player who is capable of rising to the occasion. He is also a solid defender who played especially well in right field for the Sox in 2016.
The second point to consider for Eaton is the fact that he bats left-handed. Fair or not, the 2021 White Sox will be heavily right-handed, with the only other lefty bats being switch hitters Yoan Moncada and Yasmani Grandal. Considering that the Sox will see a heavy dose of righty starters, especially in the division, the lefty bat of Eaton could be a major asset for the Sox. Surely, Eaton could play against righties, and be available for pinch-hitting when they see the rare lefty.
The Case For Adam Engel
The first point in Engel’s favor is his defensive ability. While Eaton is no slouch, Engel is a premier defender who has been a Gold Glove finalist. Sox fans will not soon forget the catch he made to save Lucas Giolito’s no-hitter in 2020. The catch itself was not the best catch in MLB history. However. Engel’s smooth play on the ball was a great reminder of how good he is in the outfield. With Eloy Jimenez in left field, an elite glove in right field would be a plus for the 2021 White Sox.
The second point is one that many Sox fans will consider debatable. Engel has yet to show himself to be capable of hitting over a full season. Yes, he hit well in 2020, a shortened season, and he has shown more power than Eaton. He also figures to be a better base-stealer if given the chance to play every day. The question is: are his 2020 numbers sustainable? Or, were they an anomaly that would have leveled off over a whole season? In either event, there is no question that Engel has shown improvement at the plate each year, however, is it enough?
The Great Debate: Other Factors To Consider
The team factor is always a huge factor in completing a roster and lineup. The fact is that the 2021 White Sox signed Eaton with the specific intent of making him their everyday right fielder. While ChiSox fans have been hoping for a bigger name, it is evident that management intends for Eaton to be the guy. This is one factor that Sox fans have to accept.
With Eaton in right, the Sox will have Engel as a fourth outfielder/defensive replacement. They will also have super-utility man Leury Garcia available to play any outfield spots. Having Engel as a fourth outfielder also allows Garcia to be available to play on the infield as needed. With Engel in right, Eaton becomes basically a backup with no place to play. It is hard to imagine the Sox spending $8 million on a backup right fielder.
Another idea floated by some Sox fans is that of putting Jimenez at DH and playing Engel in left field. Defensively, this would give the 2021 White Sox as good an outfield as any in MLB. The pitching staff would no doubt love pitching with that outfield alignment. However, the Sox have made clear that Andrew Vaughn will be their DH sooner rather than later. So, does it really make sense to essentially replace a potential elite bat with a player who yet to prove that he can be a full-time hitter? That is a question that answers itself.
One more point to consider in this debate is that this must be a fluid decision. While it is difficult to imagine the Sox pulling Eaton early in the season, they do have other options. As long as Eaton is playing decently and the team is winning, it is likely that he will remain in the lineup. However, if his season goes sideways, LaRussa is not going to be overly patient. He knows that the time to win is now, and the 2021 White Sox have one goal. That goal is to make a deep playoff run with the best players he can pit on the field.
Keeping Engel sharp during the early part of the season will allow LaRussa to replace a struggling Eaton, should that happen. So, Engel fans should not lose heart, and root for their guy to keep playing well, and take advantage of every chance he gets. The debate is never really over, and fans can be assured that Tony LaRussa and the 2021 White Sox will put their best foot forward each and every day. Adam Engel will be a key contributor, no matter who is the starting right fielder on Opening Day.
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