Adam Engel will be sidelined a couple weeks after injuring his hamstring while making a play in the outfield during Saturday's Cactus League game.
That absence, cited by manager Tony La Russa on Sunday, bleeds into the regular season, of course, meaning Engel isn't likely to be ready for Opening Day. And with the team's obvious fourth outfielder on the shelf, there's a roster spot open with a week and change remaining in spring training.
"We are thinking about that," La Russa said when asked about options for a replacement. "It creates a spot open, so we’ll look at what we do with it.
"It’s not a good break for us. But Adam does so much, and he was really coming. It’s a tough time to pull the plug on it, but he knows what he was working on and when he comes back, he’ll be ready to go."
It shows how far Engel has come in the last year plus that, indeed, his absence is a bad break for the White Sox. Always a stellar defender, his offense has made big strides in catching up. And after a nice year at the plate during the shortened 2020 campaign — which included the franchise's first postseason home run since 2008 — he went on a power surge this spring. Engel slugged .667 in his 36 Cactus League at-bats, with three homers and seven RBIs.
But the replacement for Engel won't be expected to slide into the middle of the White Sox lineup, nor was Engel prior to the injury. He'll be expected to be a fourth outfielder, spelling the starters when need be and coming into games as a late-inning defensive replacement.
Engel's improvement with the bat, coupled with sour memories of how everything went down in 2016, had plenty of White Sox fans itching for Engel to eat into Adam Eaton's playing time in right field. But La Russa assured last week, before Engel got hurt, that Eaton would see the majority of that playing time.
"Eaton is going to be our regular," La Russa said. "Adam Engel is the perfect complement, not only because he can hit left-handers, but he can play the other two spots."
The task of being the fourth outfielder in Engel's absence likely falls to Leury García, whose versatility has been lauded by La Russa this spring to the point where he's grouped him with the team's everyday players, adding that García just happens to play a different position every day. García can play all three outfield spots, as well as three of the four positions on the infield, and got the start in center the day after Engel got hurt. With La Russa needing a replacement for Engel for what he hopes is just a handful of games on the team's season-opening road trip, it's a sensible solution.
What Engel's season-starting stay on the injured list could point to is Billy Hamilton cracking the team's Opening Day group. His speed has been on full display since the White Sox added him to camp on a minor league deal last week. He made one particularly notable scoot around the bases last Thursday, when after a walk he briskly moved to second on a wild pitch, to third on a stolen base and home on another pitch that got past the catcher.
The White Sox didn't need any further proof of Hamilton's potentially game-changing base-running ability — he stole home against them in the regular-season finale last year — but with an open roster spot, it makes it easier to put that ability on the Opening Day roster. Gunning for a World Series championship in 2021, it wouldn't be surprising to see them try to utilize it all year long, should there not be a roster squeeze at some point.
Of course, there are 40-man implications to worry about. But it's difficult to see the White Sox opting for someone inexperienced like Luis González, who La Russa brought up in a list of his post-Engel-injury outfield options Sunday, over the eye-popping, difference-making ability of Hamilton.