The big question for Yolmer Sanchez coming into the 2018 campaign was whether he could become a part of the White Sox long-term plans.
And while mid May is far too early to say "mission accomplished," Sanchez has looked like a potential piece of the organization's bright future over the first month and a half of the season.
Sanchez entered Wednesday's game in Pittsburgh with a .295/.329/.432 slash line, mostly as the team's everyday third baseman. He's batting .364 in the month of May. And though he might not project to be the kind of middle-of-the-order bat that has White Sox fans so excited to see Eloy Jimenez hit the big leagues, Sanchez is most definitely taking advantage of this opportunity the rebuilding effort has afforded him at the major league level.
"He finally got his shot, and he's making the most of it," shortstop Tim Anderson said last weekend at Wrigley Field. "Everything, he's hitting the ball, and good defense. He's a good player. I feel like he's underrated, but now he got his shot and he's killing it."
White Sox fans will surely point to free-agents-to-be Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson or Nolan Arenado as the hoped-for long-term answers at the hot corner. But Sanchez's long-term value might be closer in line to Jose Abreu's than the average Sock during this rebuilding effort.
Abreu, advancing in age, is extremely productive but would need a new contract to stick around for the planned glory days of the rebuild. The White Sox might be inclined to give it to him because of his value in the clubhouse, as a role model for younger players. Sanchez, a force in the clubhouse with his gigantic personality, could play a similar role for players reaching the South Side from the minor leagues.
"He leads by example and he's also a person that carries a voice in the locker room," manager Rick Renteria said. "He's an individual that in spite of what might be happening every single day, he goes out and shows you he still has the energy, the focus, the commitment to do everything he possibly can to beat you. Ultimately you want 25 guys who want to feel like every single day they're going to give you their best effort and they're going to try to beat you. That's the example that he's shown through his actions, through his routines, through his work, through his body language, through his character. Ultimately you want a major league club that every single player does that. These guys are learning how to do that. They're driving toward that personality individually, and hopefully it's something that collectively comes together."
"I personally see Abreu as a model because he's a guy that works hard every day, he can hit, he does everything right. And anytime I think about something, I go ask him, 'What do you think about this, Pito?'" Sanchez said. "But I think if I can help anybody, I will."
Fans have enjoyed plotting out the team of the future, and many of the team's highly ranked prospects seem to have certain spots on the field on lock. Jimenez and Luis Robert figure to speak for two of the three outfield spots. Yoan Moncada and Anderson seem entrenched in the middle of the infield. Zack Collins, should he reach his full potential, would be the catcher of the future.
Third base, though, is suddenly much more of a mystery after Jake Burger's pair of Achilles tear, the most recent one resetting his recovery and throwing a wrench in his development. Most fans would probably say they'd like to see a free-agent fix there over anything else, especially with the quality of names set to hit the market. But Sanchez is perhaps providing a homegrown alternative with his improved play and clubhouse presence. Even if the White Sox added a big-name third baseman in free agency, Sanchez's versatility would make him a nice utility infielder — a possibile future that would keep him in the clubhouse.
"I would love to stay here because I know the talent that we've got here and in the minor leagues today. And I know how good this team's going to be for the next couple years," Sanchez said. "But it's not my call, it's not my choice. I cannot control that. I just play hard every day, and we'll see what happens. This is the organization that gave me the opportunity to play in the major leagues, stay in the big leagues. So I would love to stay here, but it's not my call.
"I just try to take the opportunity and do my best. I love to play every day. So they give me the opportunity, and I try to do my best so I can see name in the lineup every day."