The Chicago White Sox have an issue in right field and the fan base is fired up that the front office has yet to make a signing or a trade that immediately affects the big league club’s chances at making a deep playoff run in 2022. When manager Tony La Russa was asked about the fan base clamoring for a move to be made outside the organization he replied, “Fans who want the White Sox to go outside the organization for another right fielder, are probably not White Sox fans.” While the comment should not have been made and was rather rude considering all fans want is the team to win, he may have a point.
The White Sox have yet to make a splash move in free agency since signing Yasmani Grandal to the richest average annual value contract at four years and 73 million dollars. Averaging 18.25 million per year, that is a high AAV contract, especially for the White Sox. The Sox have never agreed to contract at or over 100 million dollars. This is no surprise to Sox fans. While they may be loud and boisterous about wanting that huge free-agent signing, Rick Hahn and company have done a great job building a contender without an individual contract being that high. They have set themselves up potentially for the long haul by locking in young high ceiling players to manageable contracts such as their best player, Luis Robert signing a deal at six years for just 50 million dollars.
The rest of the outfield positions are locked in for the long term with Robert being on board and slugger Eloy Jimenez also locked in at six years for 43 million dollars with the team carrying a pair of options that could keep Eloy on the southside through the 2026 season.
So who will play right field in 2022? The options currently on the roster include Andrew Vaughn, Gavin Sheets, Leury Garcia, Adam Engel, Yoelqui Cespedes, Micker Adolfo, and recently acquired Adam Haseley. While the last four of these will almost certainly begin their 2022 season in the minors the first four should be with the team in Detroit next weekend.
While Andrew Vaughn was playing right field in Sunday’s cactus league game, he made a diving grab in the right-center field gap and came up lame eventually having to be carted off. Luckily for the Sox, it sounds like it is just a hip pointer injury and should take 2-3 weeks to recover from. While Vaughn needs at-bats and will undoubtedly be a part of the White Sox championship contention window, he is not an outfielder. His ability to adapt to a position outside of his natural first base position is admirable, but not ideal for a team trying to win the World Series. Vaughn should give Abreu breaks at first base when needed, hit in the designated hitter spot against lefties, and occasionally make a spot start in right field.
Gavin Sheets showed the White Sox something last year in just 54 games providing power from the left side of the plate. This is something the Sox openly yearn for and got a bit of in Sheets late last year. Sheets made his debut in late June of 2021 and carried a slash line of .286 / .375 / .381 with 13 home runs and 43 runs batted in. Sheets worked hard on playing the outfield during 2021 before making his debut in June, intelligently seeing the roadblocks to first base in Andrew Vaughn and Jose Abreu. While again, the work is admirable and appreciated by Sox fans, Gavin Sheets is not the everyday right fielder and the White Sox understand this. Sheets should see a ton of time at the designated hitter position for the Sox this year and could be included in a deal to improve the roster before the deadline but the Sox seem to hold him in high regard and understandably so.
Garcia will undoubtedly be on the roster come opening day and rightfully so. Garcia provides the utility player seemingly every championship team needs. The best comparison of what Leury Garcia is could be the Dodgers’ Chris Taylor. Taylor is a touch older than Garcia but is the better player. His slash line is similar however Taylor boasts a career OPS of .779 compared to Leury’s .666. Like Taylor, Garcia can play the middle infield or the outfield and can be extremely valuable on a championship run. Leury Legend is currently the longest-tenured White Sox player and deserves to be here. While Leury should be on the roster and with this team for the championship run, he is not an everyday player. Unfortunately due to injuries and unforeseen circumstances, Leury managed to play in 126 games last year for the White Sox. Regardless of position, Leury should see his time on the field significantly decrease in the coming years starting in 2022.
Adolfo finds himself on this list for really only a few reasons. The first reason is available options to the minor leagues. Adolfo is currently out of options so if the Sox want to retain him he needs to be on the major league roster. The outfielder has had a solid spring hitting 7 for 14 with two home runs and 6 runs batted in. Adolfo is also the only option here who is actually a right fielder. This is his natural position and Adolfo has a great arm, a trait known to right fielders. While the numbers do not look bad, overall Adolfo has struggled in the minor leagues with injuries and performance and has been fighting for his dream with the White Sox since 2014.
Adam Engel is a great defender! Period! While Sox fans grew weary of Engel’s inability to hit with consistency during the rebuild, it may have been simply growth and adjusting to major league pitching. Engel has seen his batting average improve every year since 2017. In 2017 Engel hit a dreadful .166. He then followed that in 2018 with a .235 average. 2019 saw Engel climb again to .242. The shortened season of 2020 saw Engel’s best average at .295 albeit a small sample size. Engel battled injuries all year last year and unfortunately finished with just a .252 average.
Typically putting a ton of stock in players batting average alone is a poor way to evaluate a player’s performance at the plate, but we are evaluating a player who will hit in the eighth or ninth spot in the White Sox lineup. Who cares if he hits for power or posts a huge OPS. Engel needs to get on base and roll the lineup over to the top providing more at-bats for the likes of Tim Anderson and Luis Robert. If Engel can stay healthy, he can do that. Also and probably most importantly, Engel provides terrific defense in the outfield. The White Sox publicly stated they needed to be better defensively in 2022. Thankfully they have a gold glove caliber defender already on the roster. No need to spend more money! Jerry, you can relax!
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