What is Nomar Mazara?
Is he the White Sox everyday right fielder? Is he the White Sox most-of-the-time right fielder? Is he one half of a lefty-righty platoon in right field?
“Just happy Nomar Mazara,” he said in his first meeting with the media in the early days of spring training.
That’s a delightful introduction, Nomar. But it doesn’t really answer the question.
This is a question in the first place because Mazara has not hit left-handed pitching well in his already four-year-old major league career. Against righties, he owns a career .271/.337/.462 slash line. Against lefties, it’s .231/.272/.361.
After Rick Hahn made his front office’s lone move of the Winter Meetings, acquiring Mazara in a trade with the Texas Rangers, he asked for judgment to be reserved on the White Sox right-field situation, hinting that there might have been more to come than just sticking Mazara out there every day.
“The player that he has been over the last couple years has had some issues with lefties. So the question is: Will those continue? Can we get him better against left-handed pitching? How much was the thumb injury or the oblique that he fought with over the last couple years factoring into those issues? And make an assessment whether we need to complement him,” Hahn said in December. “If we need to complement him, that's just fine.
“That's a valuable bat against right-handed pitching. Let's see how the rest of the roster comes together before fully assessing how we addressed right field.”
Well, the rest of the roster came together splendidly from there, and the White Sox have realistic playoff expectations because of that work. But there was no further addressing of right field, and talk of the possibility of a platoon evaporated pretty quickly.
It all ended up with Mazara as the everyday right fielder.
“He’ll be out there the bulk of the time, obviously,” Hahn said last month. “Historically he’s had some struggles against lefties, but he’s now going to get the opportunity, at least early on, to show what he’s capable of doing.
“At the same time, we have guys like Leury Garcia in camp who can either spell him against lefties or just from time to time.
“Given the nature of our conversations we have in the front office, I caution against locking anything in before Opening Day. But that seems to be the direction this is heading at least to start the year.”
That shouldn’t come as a worrying thing as Opening Day approaches. Mazara has launched 79 homers in his four big league seasons, driving in 308 runs in that quartet of campaigns. And thanks to all that other work — signing Yasmani Grandal, signing Edwin Encarnacion, assuring Luis Robert will be a part of the Opening Day roster — Mazara is either the team’s No. 7 or No. 8 hitter. Twenty homers and around 80 RBIs from a No. 8 hitter? Not too shabby.
But the other thing that Hahn talked about immediately following the trade — and something that’s been a frequent talking point since — is that Mazara might be a whole lot better than the guy he was in four seasons in Dallas. The phrase “untapped potential” has been the center square on your Hahn-talks-about-Mazara bingo card, and considering the top-prospect resume and the fact that he’s still pretty young, maybe the White Sox can discover a different player than what Mazara’s Baseball-Reference page says he is.
“I’m still 24, and I still have room to grow,” Mazara said. “I keep working on my body, defense-wise, hitting-wise. On everything. … I’m ready to take that next step.”
“Hopefully he comes over and is able to put together something pretty special, becomes a part of what we are moving forward,” manager Rick Renteria said. “And I know that we've all seen him in the past and we know what he's done. We still think he hasn't reached his full potential. And hopefully we have the guys that will be able to put him over the hump and he feels comfortable and confident in what he's capable of doing and he goes out there and is able to exploit all the talents he has and help us do that.”
And so it seems that the answer to whether the White Sox end up platooning Mazara in right field has everything to do with how Mazara performs.
Certainly the Rangers saw the difference in his outcomes against differently handed pitchers. Those career slash lines referenced earlier came in a significantly different number of plate appearances: He’s got 1,615 of them against righties as opposed to 574 against lefties.
Renteria believes a solution to balancing those two sets of numbers out could be simply allowing Mazara opportunities against left-handers.
“You should remain confident in what he's capable of doing, hopefully putting him in situations and matchups and give him an opportunity to have more positive outcomes,” Renteria said. “You don't have to get a hit to have a positive outcome. If you have a good at-bat (or) you have a good swing (or) you have a nice approach against a particular pitcher, that's inching forward where you want to be.
“So what we'll continue to do is to find a way to see if we can help him continue to develop that side of the plate in terms of the pitcher, lefty.”
It’s all part of untapping that potential.
The White Sox are also expected to have more than just three outfielders, with Garcia and Adam Engel both solid bets to make the 26-man roster. Garcia is a versatile player who will play on the infield and in the outfield. He also fared well against lefties last season, with a .311 batting average and a .344 on-base percentage. Engel is undoubtedly valuable for his high-level defensive ability, but he also put up some good numbers against left-handed pitching in 2019: a .313 batting average and a .360 on-base percentage.
The White Sox hope they can untap Mazara's potential and avoid anything more than just a few days off here and there for their new right fielder. If the numbers stay what they’ve been, maybe we see more of Garcia and Engel, or maybe we see Hahn get busy at the trade deadline.
But for now, Mazara’s the guy.