Part 2 of our White Sox spring roster battles delves into the players that will be vying for a spot as a bench player this upcoming season.
Every young boy or girl that grew up dreaming of playing professional baseball would always see themselves as a starter, or possibly as the elite closer that closes out game seven of the World Series. However, there is a very under appreciated and crucial spot for the player who comes off the bench in the clutch.
Bench players can come in all styles, depending on the team needs. Versatility in the field is always a great trait for a guy coming in to replace a starter, whether it be due to injury or other circumstances. Also, the big bat that can come in and smash the game-winning home run is another valuable asset for a manager to have.
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Let’s look at the players at White Sox camp this Spring that will be vying for those precious few spots. Last year the Sox basically carried three bench players on their 25-man active playing roster, so we will make that assumption again this year. The main bench players last year were Leury Garcia, Jose Rondon, Trayce Thompson, Ryan LaMarre and Ryan Cordell at different points of the season.
Garcia should have an inside track to one of those spots due to his ability to play anywhere on the field. Last year, he played games at third base, second base, shortstop and all three outfield positions. And to add to that versatility, he is a switch hitter at the plate. Unless someone unexpected really has a strong Spring, expect him to make the trip North.
LaMarre and Thompson have moved to other organizations so we can take them out of the mix. That leaves the White Sox with two bench spots and a myriad of players that may fill them. Much of the decision on who fills those roles depends on what manager Rick Renteria wants off his bench.
Guys like Daniel Palka and Nicky Delmonico are going into Spring Training with their sights set on a starting role. However, with the glut of outfielders vying for three starting spots, as we discussed previously, they may be caught in a numbers game and be relegated to a bench role to make the team.
Palka would also seem to have an inside track to making the team as well. With Jon Jay and Yonder Alonso now in the fold, he will be sharing right field and share designated hitter duties with both of those players. Even though it appears his role will be diminished, his raw power and propensity to hit late-inning home runs last year seem to elevate him above others.
That leaves Delmonico, Rondon, Cordell, Brandon Guyer, Danny Mendick and others battling for one spot. While one of those may be the opening day starting left fielder, they’ll just be keeping that spot warm until Eloy Jimenez shows up. Left field is his once he arrives.
If Adam Engel is who he has shown to be offensively over the last two years, he would be the perfect late inning defensive replacement and pinch runner coming off the bench. However, until Luis Robert or someone else in the minors make the push, it appears he’ll be the Sox starting center fielder to start this season.
As stated previously, sometimes these battles come down to who still has options left. Unfortunately for Delmonico and Guyer, they could be sent back down to Triple-A Charlotte without risk of losing them. Charlie Tilson is out of options, but last year the Sox sent him down and he passed through waivers without any other team claiming him, so there doesn’t seem to be a worry there.
I believe that Rondon will get the best look at that remaining spot. The Sox claimed him last year after the San Diego Padres designated him for assignment. He once was a rising top five prospect in the Padres organization, but a fractured elbow in 2015 and subsequent struggles once he returned moved him down that list. He also has shown newfound power over the last couple years and could fill in at third base for Yolmer Sanchez occasionally, filling the Matt Davidson role from last year.
We all know that usually someone out of nowhere surprises during Spring Training and makes a push for himself to head North with the team. Of the players mentioned above, my prediction is that Mendick will make it very difficult for Renteria to not bring him to Chicago with the team. If you don’t know Mendick’s story, he was a late round pick in the 2015 draft.
In 2016, his first full pro season, he went from Low A to High A to Triple-A in a matter of a couple months late in the season. He is the prototypical “grinder” that Sox fans love. He can play all infield positions and could play outfield as well. His motor always is running full speed, even in warm-ups. Keep an eye on Mendick this Spring.
Now, as stated in our last article on roster battles, a lot of this could change should more acquisitions take place. A Manny Machado signing puts Sanchez in a utility role and ousts one of Rondon, Garcia or whoever else is there. A Joc Pederson trade affects guys like Delmonico and Palka. But as it stands right now, there are still players who are in Glendale, Ariz. battling for their professional careers. Should be fun, at least for us fans, to watch.