Charlie Tilson is back on the White Sox 40-man and also finally on the field.
The Winnetka-product returned to action Saturday in the Arizona Fall League and has appeared in three games. Tilson missed all of the 2017 season as he tried to rehab from a torn left hamstring suffered in August 2016. He’s 0-for-10 with two walks in the AFL.
The outfielder was reinstated from the 60-day disabled list on Thursday along with reliever Zach Putnam, who had reconstructive elbow surgery in late June. The White Sox also declined a $3.5 million club option for veteran catcher Geovany Soto, which brings the 40-man roster to 34 players.
What Tilson’s re-emergence means for his future with the White Sox will depend on how his body responds.
Tilson was initially cleared for baseball activity in late September after a long season of setbacks. Acquired from St. Louis in a deal for Zach Duke in July 2016, Tilson first suffered a stress reaction in his foot during spring training. After that, Tilson suffered a stress fracture in the navicular bone of his right ankle.
Both injuries kept Tilson — who also missed the 2012 season with a separated right shoulder — off the field this season and effectively wiped out his chance to win the everyday job in center field.
Tilson’s absence opened the door for Jacob May and Adam Engel. After winning the job in camp, May struggled and demoted to Triple-A Charlotte. The speedy Engel took over and proved an outstanding defender in center over 97 games in his rookie season. But Engel would need vast improvement upon the .166/.235/.282 slash line he produced in 336 plate appearances this season to become more than a defensive specialist.
While the team hopes Luis Robert is its everyday center fielder of the future, the Cuban product has yet to play his first game on U.S. soil. Prospect Blake Rutherford also could figure into those plans, but he’s yet to play above Single-A Kannapolis.
That could give Tilson another crack at an opportunity with the White Sox if he can stay healthy. It’s a big if given all the injuries he has suffered. But with few options ready to immediately grab hold of the job, the window still could be there for Tilson.