Leury Garcia

Pitching tops White Sox offseason to-do list, but what about the outfield?

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Pitching tops White Sox offseason to-do list, but what about the outfield?

The White Sox outfield is a region of mystery.

If ancient cartographers were charting the green expanse at Guaranteed Rate Field, they might put a scary sea monster in there, just to put off the question of what the future could possibly hold.

The White Sox have plenty of options when it comes to discussing how their outfield will look in 2019 and beyond. But the question remains of whether any of them are reliable ones.

Last season, only one player logged more than 100 games in the outfield. That was Adam Engel, who despite a continued flashing of elite defensive prowess, managed just a .235/.279/.336 slash line. It was an upgrade from his 2017 season, sure, but was it enough of one to inspire much confidence moving toward the point where the White Sox shift from rebuilding to contending?

After Engel, the outfield was marred by injuries, with Avisail Garcia, Nicky Delmonico and even Leury Garcia limited due to significant stays on the disabled list. Because of various ailments, Avisail Garcia and Delmonico weren't able to prove much of anything after their positive 2017 campaigns, making their long-term value a question. In-season call-ups Charlie Tilson and Ryan Cordell weren't able to make the kind of quick impact Delmonico did a season before, and one wonders if they're part of the 2019 plan.

One of the brightest spots on the team was Daniel Palka, who played outfield in 68 games. His 27 home runs as a rookie made him a lock for the 2019 lineup, but his defensive skills, which he worked on constantly throughout the season, might make him more of a mainstay at designated hitter than a big piece of the outfield puzzle.

Of course, the long-term future of the White Sox outfield figures to be very bright, and the brightest of that future should arrive very quickly in 2019. Eloy Jimenez figures to be up a few weeks into the season after mashing at the Double-A and Triple-A levels in 2018, and he'll be a primary focus if not the primary focus next year on the South Side. Luis Robert, Micker Adolfo, Luis Basabe, Blake Rutherford and Luis Gonzalez aren't likely to join him next season, but that incredible outfield depth gives the White Sox one of those good problems to have down the road, when it comes time to find a spot for all of their talented young outfielders.

But 2019 isn't expected to be that time.

So how does the outfield puzzle get put together next season? Jimenez, once he arrives, figures to get a majority of the playing time in one of the corner outfield spots, probably left field, as that's where he spent much of his time in the minors last season (71 games in left compared to 19 in right). If the White Sox hang on to Avisail Garcia, he'd be the no-doubt starter in right field. But his future is murky, too. With just one year of team control remaining on his contract, the White Sox could opt to trade him either during the offseason or in the middle of next season. They could even choose to not tender him a contract at all, clearing room for some of those younger guys, but that's merely an option. As things stand, Engel would again figure to be the starting center fielder while the waiting game continues for the players in the minor leagues.

However, could offseason additions change things up?

The White Sox are obviously not in win-now mode, and while no one is hoping for a repeat of 2018's 100-loss campaign, it wouldn't be a surprise to see a similar kind of outcome in 2019 as those prospects continue to develop throughout the system. But there are free-agent options out there that could provide value beyond what they would put on a stat sheet in 2019. Veterans could be brought in to help the team win but to more importantly help the young players learn to win. They could fill short-term holes, leave behind some long-term lessons and maybe perform well enough to generate midseason trade interest that could fetch a future piece or two.

Our Chuck Garfien listed veteran outfielders Adam Jones and Curtis Granderson, both free agents, as potential additions who could accomplish those goals, and the names make sense. Jones is coming off a .281/.313/.419 season with the Baltimore Orioles (that slugging percentage was his lowest since 2008) and might not have the same kinds of suitors he would have during his stretch of four consecutive All-Star appearances. Meanwhile, Granderson — a South Side native — has bounced around a lot lately, though he always seems to find himself in the playoffs, making him a potential midseason trade candidate. Both guys would be low-risk additions that could serve as placeholders until the prospects are ready.

There's another route the White Sox could go, too, and that's the route of adding a bit bigger name, someone who not only could keep the outfield grass warm while the young guys develop but who could factor into future contenders. What about Marwin Gonzalez, the utility man extraordinaire of the Houston Astros? He's hitting the free-agent market, too, and he's likely to draw plenty of interest considering he played everywhere besides pitcher and catcher in 2018. Gonzalez only put up a 247/.324/.409 slash line, 16 homers and 68 RBIs in an expanded role for the Astros in the follow-up to their championship season. But a good way to plan for future unknowns is to have a guy you can plug in just about anywhere, and that's what Gonzalez is. In addition to helping solve the outfield puzzle in the immediate, Gonzalez could be a regular option at third base, where Yolmer Sanchez hit under .200 against left-handed pitchers in 2018, and anywhere else on the field he'd be needed.

The White Sox haven't publicly said they want to retool their outfield in such a drastic fashion, and they could be perfectly content to go into another season of waiting with the guys they have, letting Jimenez be that huge addition when he arrives in the majors.

Like with everything, the rebuilding White Sox have plenty of flexibility. It will be interesting to see which way they navigate with their outfield this offseason.

The White Sox outfield is finally healthy, and it's got a lot to prove in the second half

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The White Sox outfield is finally healthy, and it's got a lot to prove in the second half

The outfield the White Sox thought they'd have all season long is finally back together.

Avisail Garcia came off the disabled list ahead of Saturday night's game in Seattle, bringing an end to his second DL stint of the campaign, both of which involved hamstring injuries. Garcia's return came a day after the return of Nicky Delmonico, who had been on the DL with a broken hand since mid May.

Here we are 96 games into the season, and Garcia has logged just 35 games, with Delmonico playing in 38. Leury Garcia had his own lengthy DL trip and has played in only 59 games. Daniel Palka, the replacement for any variety of those injured outfielders, has played in 66 games. Adam Engel, the Opening Day center fielder who is once again struggling with the bat (he entered Saturday with a .215 batting average), is the lone outfielder to see action in an overwhelming majority of the team's contests. He's appeared in 86 of them.

At the dawn of the second half, though, everyone's healthy again. But as is the case with most positions on the current big league roster, how long into this rebuilding franchise's future will those players be occupying those spots?

Outfield is one of a couple areas in which the White Sox have incredible depth. Eloy Jimenez is the No. 2 prospect in baseball and gets a deserved amount of attention (he hit two home runs in Friday night's game down at Triple-A Charlotte), with Luis Robert generating plenty of excitement, too, with his high ranking and oft-discussed tool set. But those two headliners are hardly the only guys angling for a spot in the White Sox outfield of the future. There's Micker Adolfo, Blake Rutherford, Luis Alexander Basabe, Luis Gonzalez, Joel Booker and more all developing down in the minor leagues.

Will all those names make the current crop of White Sox outfielders, finally healthy, irrelevant? And if so, how quickly?

Garcia came into the season as the White Sox reigning All-Star representative, but health isn't the only area in which he's had bad luck this season. He had a very slow start at the plate, slashing just .233/.250/.315 with one homer in 18 games before hitting the DL for two months in late April. Of course, after returning from that first layoff, he was excellent. Garcia slashed .333/.347/.783 with eight homers in just 17 games between June 22 and July 8 before hitting the DL again.

Garcia still has plenty to prove if he wants to be a part of the White Sox long-term future, chiefly in the form of consistency. Some of his numbers in 2017 were among the best in the American League, but can he do that again? Injuries have wiped out his ability to show he can do it over the course of another full season, but the remaining two months and change of the 2018 campaign will be the perfect opportunity to show the White Sox, not to mention the rest of the league, that he is a dependable long-term piece. If he can do that, the White Sox could find offseason suitors or interested parties at next year's trade deadline to swap Garcia for a rebuild-improving package. Or they could opt to extend him. His team control runs out after the 2019 season. Remember: He's only 27 years old.

Delmonico was another player embarking on a "prove it" campaign when 2018 began, and the broken hand sure didn't help him out in that department. But he managed to impress enough to get into the long-term conversation in only two months of action last season. Perhaps he could do the same over the final 60-plus games of this season.

If he's going to impress enough to do that, though, he'll have to shake off his own not-so-great beginning to the season, when he slashed .224/.333/.302 with only one homer in 37 games. In Friday's second-half opener, he went 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts.

Can any other members of this outfield do enough to keep themselves among the possibilities as the wave of prospects starts washing ashore on the South Side? For has hard as he's hit the ball — his nickname maybe should be "Exit Velocity" — Palka's managed just a .234 batting average and a .280 on-base percentage to go along with his 12 homers and 33 RBIs. Engel has still struggled to show he can do much offensively to complement his great defensive abilities. The player with the best case to stay in the conversation, at this point, might be Leury Garcia. The White Sox love his versatility, his ability to play both infield and outfield, and he's been on an offensive tear since returning from his own month-long layoff, slashing .338/.348/.477 in his last 20 games. Maybe he garners some interest as the trade deadline rapidly approaches?

Jimenez — slashing .319/.373/.594 with five homers in 18 games since being promoted to Triple-A — is coming. If he keeps this pace up, he'd figure to be a lock to play for the White Sox before the end of this season. But Rick Hahn has talked about the importance of Jimenez getting at-bats in Triple-A, and the 30-games-under-.500 White Sox are in no rush to bring up reinforcements before their development dictates it.

So there might be an increasingly limited window in which this crop of outfielders has the opportunity to prove its worth in the White Sox long-term plans. Injuries that have slowed things down for Robert and Adolfo have increased that opportunity for the current big leaguers, too. But as Basabe showed in last weekend's Futures Game, there's no shortage of outfield prospects knocking on the door. So for the Garcias, Delmonico, Engel and Palka, now's the time to impress.

Charlie Tilson gets another chance with White Sox after Leury Garcia hits the DL

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Charlie Tilson gets another chance with White Sox after Leury Garcia hits the DL

Charlie Tilson is finally back in the major leagues. And this time, he’s hoping he can stick around for more than one game.

Tilson, currently ranked as the White Sox No. 15 prospect, was brought up from Triple-A Charlotte on Thursday, joining the active roster after the team placed Leury Garcia on the 10-day disabled list with a left knee sprain.

Tilson, a Wilmette native and New Trier High School product, came over to the White Sox from the St. Louis Cardinals in a midseason trade in 2016 and got a hit in his first big league at-bat. But in the same game, he suffered a season-ending hamstring injury while trying to make a diving catch in the outfield. The following spring, he suffered another serious injury, a stress fracture in his foot, and was forced to sit out the entire season.

He missed out on an Opening Day roster spot this year when Adam Engel outperformed him during spring training. But the White Sox hope Tilson will be able to provide some production in an outfield that has struggled in that department this season. Engel, even after a four-hit night on Wednesday, is batting just .212. Trayce Thompson is hitting well under .200. And Avisail Garcia and Nicky Delmonico are dealing with their own significant injuries as Leury Garcia joins them on the DL.

Tilson batted .248 in 39 games at Charlotte this season prior to Thursday’s call-up. He had three hits in Wednesday night’s loss.