White Sox Offseason Grades: Outfield, Designated Hitter
Luis Robert’s extension headlined a busy offseason for the White Sox when it comes to the outfield/designated hitter positions, but will it translate in 2020?
As we gear up for the White Sox to report to Camelback Ranch for the start of Spring Training 2020, we’re going to be grading out the offseason that was.
We’ll be breaking down the moves by position grouping, and today we’re going to take a look at the outfielders. The White Sox outfield was a circus in 2019, deploying a cast of cast-outs in right field 161 times while dealing with a limited Leury Garcia in centerfield and an oft-injured Eloy Jimenez in left field.
Let’s start by taking a look at who’s in and who’s out for the 2020 Chicago White Sox outfielders.
Luis Robert (Signed a Six-Year, $50 million Extension)
Much like they did with Eloy Jimenez last spring, the White Sox extended star prospect Luis Robert, essentially guaranteeing his presence on the Opening Day roster when they host the Kansas City Royals on March 26th.
This extension might actually be the most impactful move of the offseason for the Sox, one that featured quite a few moves of such nature.
White Sox prospects have had a frustrating streak of learning curves or adjustment periods that have lingered longer than that of similarly ranked prospects around the league, and while I believe that Luis Robert will have an adjustment period, I think that he’ll be on a fast-track to making an impact ala Ronald Acuna Jr. in Atlanta, or 2019 American League Rookie of the Year Yordan Alvarez in Houston.
Robert’s massive bag of tools and talent will play through any adjustment phase that he’ll experience in the early portion of the season, and I would bet that his odds to win the 2020 AL Rookie of the Year Award are worth placing your money on.
Robert led the White Sox’s entire farm system in nearly every offensive category in 2019, slashing .328/.377/.624/1.001 and logging 32 home runs, 92 RBI, 108 runs, and 36 stolen bases across three levels in 2019.
Nomar Mazara (Acquired from Texas Rangers via Trade)
The White Sox’s lone move during the Winter Meetings in San Diego, California back in December wasn’t overly exciting, and it received lukewarm reactions from Sox fans at the time.
Honestly, the lack of reaction was probably strongly tied to the anxiousness that the fanbase was feeling on the heels of missing out on Zack Wheeler the week prior, and the move would have likely been seen in a better light had it come a month later.
Let’s be frank, it’s a low-risk move flipping prospect Steele Walker in exchange for a major-league-ready right-fielder with multiple consecutive 20-home run seasons already under his belt, providing the Sox with some potential upside on their ROI.
It doesn’t move the needle like a Nicholas Castellanos or Marcell Ozuna signing would have, but it gives the White Sox a solution if right field at a minimal cost. Mazara hit 20 home runs in 2016-18 and 19 home runs in 2019, so pencil him in for 20-plus at Guaranteed Rate Field this season. Let’s hope that White Sox hitting coach Frank Menechino can draw some more power out of Mazara this spring.
Edwin Encarnacion (Signed a One-Year, $12 million deal)
The addition of Edwin Encarnacion on Christmas night was the icing on the cake for the White Sox offensively, adding a legitimate everyday designated hitter to a team that has sorely missed that for years.
The one-year deal worth $12 million comes with a team option for 2021, giving the White Sox the ability to pencil in — give or take — 30 home runs from the DH spot in their order.
Jon Jay signed a one-year, $4 million deal with the White Sox last winter when the club was considered the front-runner to land his dear friend, Manny Machado.
The White Sox can deny it all they want, but Jay and his 70 OPS+ were here in an attempt to lure Machado, and just like the Machado pursuit itself, Jay swung-and-missed in 2019.
After a hip injury held him out all spring and well into the regular season, the veteran outfielder posted a -0.8 bWAR in 165 at-bats with the Sox.
The 27-year-old Wilmette, Illinois native, Charlie Tilson, finally remained healthy enough in 2019 to get his first real run of major league playing time with the White Sox, and it was less than overwhelming, to say the least.
Tilson managed just 33 hits in 144 at-bats, good for an abysmal OPS+ of 57. Needless to say, the New Trier High School alum has likely seen the end of his time on the South Side.
Daniel Palka’s 2018 power display earned him a media run in the spring of 2019 similar to an All-Star caliber player, with Barstool Sports even giving him and White Sox Dave their own podcast!
Palka started the season hitless in his first 39 plate appearances, was demoted to Triple-A Charlotte, and eventually returned to the club in late June, where he collected eight hits in his final 51 plate appearances with the White Sox.
Daniel seems like a hell of a guy, but his 2019 struggles coupled with the offseason additions likely spells the end of “Palakmania” on the South Side of Chicago.
Cordell flashed an .829 OPS+ in April, as he got plenty of run with Daniel Palka struggling mightily, but came crashing down to earth with an 11-50 month of May, and it never got any better from there.
Cordell finished the season with a 73 OPS+ and will be out of the fold moving forward.
The White Sox shaved a hefty amount of dead weight from their 2019 outfield group while adding everyday pieces in centerfield and right field.
Barring injuries, you’ll see an outfield of Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert and Nomar Mazara from left to right the vast majority of the season, which is a massive upgrade from what we saw in 2019.
If Eloy Jimenez looks like he did to close the 2019 season, Luis Robert can avoid a significant adjustment period, and Nomar Mazara performs to his career numbers or better, the Sox will be in excellent shape offensively in the outfield.
Defensively, Robert is a freak athlete with endless range and a cannon for a right arm, but he’ll be flanked by two sub-par defensive outfielders in Jimenez and Mazara. We’ll see how much he can compensate for them, but Rick Renteria‘s usage of late-innings defensive replacements is going to be a common theme.
Sprinkle in the power and consistency that Edwin Encarnacion provides the White Sox at the designated hitter position, and this group has taken a huge leap for the better in 2020.