White Sox thin on available centerfielders to start the season. Could a speedster that hasn’t debuted in MLB become the starting centerfielder for the South Siders?
With the loss of J.B. Shuck and Austin Jackson to free agency, and the trade of former White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton this past offseason, the Chicago White Sox outfield depth is exceedingly thin. Left field is currently inhabited by veteran Melky Cabrera, and it appears the Sox are willing to give Avisail Garcia one more chance to tap into his potential in right field.
The only outfield postion left for the Sox that is entirely up for grabs is in center field. Rookie Charlie Tilson was pegged for the starting center field job, but a torn hamstring last season and now a right foot injury is beginning to raise a cause for concern. Veteran Peter Bourjos was signed to a minor league deal this past offseason. A forgotten option for the starting center field job is the White Sox third round pick back in the 2013 draft: Jacob May.
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May, 25, has White Sox baseball in his blood. May is the nephew of former White Sox first baseman/outfielder Carlos May. Carlos was a proficient hitter in his day. His game relied on a powerful bat more than anything else. Jacob, however, relies virtually on speed, defense, and a very good contact rate for his style of play.
Since May was drafted by the Sox back in 2013, he has played as high as Triple A posting solid numbers at the minor league level. His career .272/.331/.382 slash line would be a very nice compliment for the Sox at the big league level. May also has stolen an impressive 118 bags in the minor leagues over four seasons, and has a very respectable .989 fielding percentage as well.
May’s competition in center field leaves a lot to be desired. As mentioned earlier, Tilson and Bourjos remain as the only viable major league ready options in the White Sox system. Tilson and Bourjos would provide very similar qualities that May would provide, but there are a few distinctions between Tilson/Bourgous and May.
Injuries have been a problem for the White Sox in center field these past few seasons. Jackson, the Sox starting center fielder last season, underwent season ending knee surgery in June. Tilson later was called up from Triple A after being acquired via trade. He went 1-for-2 in his debut. He tore his hamstring diving for a ball ending his season. Tilson rehabbed the hamstring all winter; only to find enough discomfort in his right foot to put him on the disabled list.
Tilson will not be ready for Opening Day, however that does not mean he won’t be on the roster as soon as he is off the DL, but he needs to learn how to stay on the diamond first before anything else. The same can be said for Bourjos. In one of his most recent stints with the St Louis. Cardinals, he found himself on the DL three separate times. Twice being a nagging shoulder injury, the other being a hip injury. Bourjos in his six seasons in the big leagues has only played one full season back in 2011.
May, although being on the DL four times in his career, they were only brief seven day stints that did not keep him out for a period of time. Potentially starting May in center field for around 140 games would be a tremendous benefit for a rebuilding White Sox team. It would be more than enough to show what he is capable of at the MLB level, and since the Sox are not expected to win in 2017, they don’t have much to lose starting May.
With the departure of Eaton, the Sox are in dire need of a leadoff man or a two hole hitter for the future. Tilson, Bourjos, and May all appear ready to play one of those two roles. All three rely on speed and contact which is exactly what any team looks for at the top of their lineup. The one discrepancy between May and Tilson/Bourjos is their plate discipline. Bourjos’s career K/BB ratio as a hitter is a little over 4 strikeouts per walk, and Tilson’s hovers right around 2.5. May’s on the other hand is at 2.07 or pretty much 2 strikeouts per walk.
Although they are just his minor league numbers, if May can translate a good foundation of plate recognition and discipline at the Major League level he will be a huge threat the more times he reaches base. His career .331 OBP doesn’t jump off the stat sheet like a Paul Goldschmidt OBP, but for a .271 average it is above average.
Ability to Switch Hit
The ability to switch hit in the game of baseball today is a underappreciated but valuable asset for any team to have. Managers are now using their bullpens based on if the hitter is right handed or left handed. If a batter late in a game is right handed, typically a right handed relief pitcher will be in the game. Same thing goes for left handed pitchers versus left handed batters. Being able to hit from both sides of the plate like May, is a luxury.
Last season, May hit .275 as a left handed hitter vs. just .241 as a right handed hitter. This is to be expected considering a vast majority of pitchers are right handed. Unlike May, Tilson being a left handed hitter, and Bourjos a right handed hitter, they don’t have a distinct advantage over the pitcher unless it’s a pitcher that throws opposite to their handedness.
The art of switch hitting also provides lineup depth as well for the Sox. With just Cabrera as the only switch hitter pegged to be in the White Sox Opening Day lineup, May would provide a left handed bat against right handed pitching. Something the Sox have desperately lacked these past few seasons.
If that isn’t enough proof, May is also having a solid spring training for the Sox as well. May has recorded a .306 batting average to go along with four stolen bases. With just a little over two weeks till Opening Day, and 21 more roster cuts to be made, it should be clear to who the starting center fielder will be for the Palehose in 2017.