White Sox haven’t adjusted defensively in the outfield with the absence of Austin Jackson
The White Sox once enjoyed a six-game lead in the AL Central this season, and with good pitching from their starters and relievers, timely hitting and stellar defense, the team looked like it would be well-positioned to contend for a playoff berth. Fast forward to June 15, and the White Sox began the day 3.5 games behind the AL Central leading Cleveland Indians.
The White Sox have designated four players for assignment this season and their starting rotation is still showing holes. However, the one area the team could ill-afford regression would be their outfield defense.
Adam Eaton played 145 games in center field for the White Sox in 2015, but began the season in right field after the acquisition of Austin Jackson during spring training. With a natural center fielder in the fold, Eaton moved over to right field. After enduring poor defense in right field from Avisail Garcia in 2015, the White Sox enjoyed spectacular defensive plays from Eaton over the course of April into early May.
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The White Sox stellar outfield defensive experienced a setback during a 5-4 loss to the Kansas City Royals on May 29. Jackson took himself out of the game in the 8th inning. Jackson avoided being placed the disabled list with a turf toe injury, but he missed six consecutive games before a brief return on June 7 against the Washington Nationals. Jackson would go on the disabled list after tearing his meniscus in his left knee on June 9 and is expected to miss up to six weeks.
With Eaton back in center field, White Sox manager Robin Ventura has relied on Garcia to play right field the past four games and it hasn’t been pretty. Garcia has struggled over the past two games and on Monday, he couldn’t come up with the ball after allowing a hit to find a small gap between him and Eaton. The error allowed Miguel Cabrera to go to third base in a game that started horribly for the White Sox.
Melky Cabrera committed an error on Monday when he allowed a hit from Jarrod Saltalamacchia to get past him but was able to throw the catcher out at third base. A review later reversed the call and Saltalamacchia would score the Tigers ninth and final run on Monday thanks to a sacrifice bunt from Jose Iglesias. White Sox ultimately won game 10-9 in 12 innings.
On Tuesday, Garcia failed to catch a flyball hit by Miguel Cabrera and this provided the Tigers with runners on 1st and 2nd base to open the fourth inning. The Tigers were already leading 5-2 and would ultimately chase Miguel Gonzalez out of the game in an 11-8 loss for the White Sox.
There isn’t much outfield depth in the minors as Class AAA Charlotte center fielder Jacob May has been on the disabled list since May 16 due to an oblique strain. The next best defensive center fielder would be Adam Engel. The 24-year old minor league player was named the Arizona Fall League MVP in 2015 but has struggled hitting at Birmingham as he has a .235 batting average.
After a demotion to Class A Winston-Salem on May 9, Engel returned to Class AA Birmingham on May 24 and is hitting .275 in his last 10 games. The speedy outfielder could help re-position the White Sox outfield with Eaton in right field. There would be fear that a promotion to the White Sox for Engel wouldn’t help the team offensively, but they can’t continue to rely on Garcia in right field much longer.
J.B. Shuck is a viable option to fill in at right field, but he isn’t a player this team should rely on to play everyday. The White Sox will undoubtedly miss Jackson in center field, and the team will have to make a quick adjustment if they have any hopes of saving their season.