Nomar Mazara is not expected to be in the White Sox lineup for Friday’s season-opener.
The team’s new right fielder, acquired in a December trade with the Texas Rangers, was expected to provide a power boost to the White Sox lineup, but that will have to wait at least a little while after he was placed on the injured list Wednesday.
So what’s that mean for right field? And perhaps of more interest to White Sox fans, what’s that mean for Nick Madrigal’s roster status?
Well, to address the second part of that first, the most logical outcome for Madrigal still figures to be that he’ll make his major league debut roughly a week into the season.
The White Sox have never said that service time plays a role in their decisions regarding when prospects should be promoted to the big leagues. But the realities of baseball are what they are, and even in this most unusual of season, service time is still a thing. If Madrigal doesn’t debut until roughly a week into the 2020 season, the White Sox will gain an extra year of team control.
Perhaps that’s not how it plays out. After all, everyone’s been spending “Summer Camp” talking about how important every single game of the 60-game schedule will be and how critical it is to get off to a good start. Madrigal is the organization’s best second baseman, and he would figure to make the team better from Day 1 if he was part of the Opening Day roster. And maybe a sudden need in right field provides extra incentive for Madrigal to be part of the roster from the jump.
But Rick Hahn has spent the last several years talking about his rebuilding project as a long-term endeavor, and having Madrigal as part of the team for as long as possible helps the White Sox extend their contention window. It’s as simple as that.
OK, so what does Madrigal have to do with Mazara and right field?
Well, the first choice to replace any one of the White Sox three starting outfielders is probably Leury García. But he’ll most likely be starting at second base Friday and until Madrigal arrives on the South Side for good. Now, the White Sox have other infield options, too, and perhaps Rick Renteria wants to put Danny Mendick at second base in the opener, allowing García to play right.
But Yoán Moncada plays a role in this, too. Renteria said Tuesday that he anticipates Moncada will be ready for the opener. But after Moncada missed the first two weeks of the already brief three-week ramp-up period to the start of the season, his manager does not expect him to be able to play a ton of games in a row. That might mean Mendick gets some early season action at third base, requiring García to stay at second.
It all points to Adam Engel getting some more playing time in right field. Expected to be the team’s fourth or fifth outfielder, depending on how you classify the versatile García, Engel’s excellent defensive skills seemed best suited for a late-game defensive replacement for either Mazara in right or Eloy Jiménez in left. But now Engel is likely to get some starts with Mazara on the IL.
Engel’s big league career hasn’t featured a ton of offensive success to go along with his Gold Glove caliber defense in the outfield. But he’s had a solid “Summer Camp,” highlighted by an absolute bomb of a home run off Cubs starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks in Sunday night’s exhibition game at Wrigley Field. That dinger started a six-run fifth inning. Engel showed some offensive improvement in the final month of 2019, too, hitting four home runs and picking up three doubles in 82 trips to the plate.
Another name worth noting is Nicky Delmonico, who had a nice spring training and has fared well in "Summer Camp," too. He was Renteria's starting right fielder in Wednesday night's exhibition game against the Milwaukee Brewers and could certainlny be a part of the right-field mix if he lands on the 30-man roster.
With no specific reason given for Mazara’s trip to the injured list, there’s no timetable for his return, either. And so a combination of players might be part of the White Sox lineup for a while in a shortened season the team enters with expectations of reaching the postseason.