White Sox slugger had a surprising 2018 season but can he build upon his rookie numbers to avoid a sophomore slump in 2019?
Daniel Palka was arguably the biggest surprise for the White Sox this past season. Palka was claimed off waivers in November of 2017 and broke the team record for pinch-hit home runs during his first year in the Majors.
Breakout performances from rookies are nothing new. They happen every year in every professional sport. White Sox fans have seen many rookies perform well in their first year. For Palka, coming off a season where he hit 27 home runs and 67 RBIs, his 2018 has to be considered a success.
Going into the 2019 season, however, Palka will have to follow up his breakout rookie season with another good year at the plate for the Sox. Just as Sox fans have seen many rookies have good seasons with the team, they’ve also seen those players never replicate that early success later in their careers.
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A few notable names come to mind when thinking of players that had great starts to their careers in a Sox uniform to only never again come close to replicating that success. Gordon Beckham and Josh Fields are some of the more recent former Sox players that were successful in their rookie seasons but couldn’t follow that up with much consistency.
Fields finished seventh in the American League Rookie of the Year voting in 2007. That season in 100 games, Fields had a slash line of .244/.308/.480 with 23 home runs and 67 RBIs. Unfortunately for Fields, his rookie season would be the best year of his MLB career that lasted just five seasons. Fields never reached double-digits in home runs in a single season after 2007 and appeared in just 13 games with the Kansas City Royals in his final year in the Majors in 2010.
Beckham, once a favorite of Sox fans after his 2009 rookie season, appeared in 22 games for the Seattle Mariners this past season. He finished fifth in AL Rookie of the Year voting in 2009. That season, Beckham hit .270 with 28 doubles, 14 home runs, and 63 RBIs through 103 games for the Sox. Despite the Sox giving him many opportunities with playing time over the next four and half seasons, Beckham couldn’t replicate his success from his rookie season.
For Palka, there’s no guarantee he will end up like Fields or Beckham but he will have to expect adjustments being made by opposing teams to attempt to sap his power next season. Palka likely isn’t going to be leading the Sox in batting average or walks anytime soon, but what he does provide the team is a power-hitting designated hitter or pinch hitter off the bench.
There will be a lot of teams that will pitch Palka differently than they did in 2018. This is a given. It will be up to Palka to make necessary adjustments to counter any strategies opposing teams will have to get him out at the plate. ‘Palka-Mania’ ran wild on the south side this past season. 2019 will be an important year for Palka and he will have to avoid a sophomore slump that could derail his career.