I think I can speak for most White Sox fans when saying that I am upset with the production that is coming from the right field position, at least against right-handed pitching. It’s a safe assumption that this will be alleviated when Nomar Mazara returns from the IL. Last season with the Rangers, he hit .288/.340/.500 with a sOPS+ of 123 according to Baseball Reference (sOPS+ is OPS for a particular split relative to league average, where 100 is considered average). This was in spite of having lofty expectations in Texas, where he was tasked with hitting cleanup in a vast majority of his starts with little protection behind him. It’s safe to say that in a White Sox lineup that is loaded with potential, he won’t have to be “the man” quite as much and can reasonably expect to hit seventh or eighth on most days. He also shouldn’t expect to play every day, because his numbers against lefties are far from ideal, where his sOPS+ was a dreadful 66 in 2019.
The good news is that so far in limited action this season, Adam Engel has fared well against left-handed pitching. He even showed flashes of this capability in 2019 where he had an OPS of .841 against lefties. With his speed on the bases and tremendous glove in the outfield, he can be a solid option to get starts in right field when Mazara doesn’t play. However, Engel shouldn’t be counted on to produce all the time. Engel as he owns a career OPS of .574 against righties which is well below league average. These statistics leave the Sox with one real option, which is platooning Mazara and Engel based on matchups. Based on prior experience, this should fare somewhat decent.
However, the White Sox should be prepared to have more than one option at a particular position. Not only should they have options, but they should be striving for quality options. This season is far from normal, and as we’ve already seen a lot can change very quickly. Players have been continually opting out and the chances of catching COVID-19 are very much a factor. As we’ve seen, a positive COVID test can keep players out of action for at least ten days, usually more. Not to mention, there is an increased risk of injury in a shortened season where quite a lot of stop-and-go is a expected.
The Sox have experienced this first hand, with Mazara beginning the season on the IL due to COVID-19. For several teams in the league, this would be a next man up type of deal. Teams that invest in
depth quality depth don’t miss a beat. Unfortunately for the Sox, this resulted in Nicky Delmonico starting in six of the first nine games of the season. He will likely be removed from the 30-man roster when Mazara returns, but the damage in the six starts he received has already been done in the form of runners left on base in key situations. This really isn’t even any fault of his own, he is who is he is. There’s no expectation of him magically turning into a player that can handle hitting second or fourth in the batting order like his manager believes, let alone being a quality substitute on a winning team. As fans, we can appreciate the fun moments he provided us during some dismal rebuilding years, but acknowledge that he no longer serves a purpose for this team. An OPS+ 98 points below league average serves virtually no purpose on any team.
With that said, the Sox need to be proactive instead of reactive in preparing for the worst this season so that another Delmonico-like situation doesn’t occur. While on a four game winning streak, the time is now to continue building momentum and minimizing holes. That is why I’m suggesting something that may raise a few eyebrows, but I’m going to say it anyways…. The White Sox should at least CONSIDER the possibility of James McCann getting some practice reps in right field and seeing where that goes.
It’s clear that James McCann is having a hot start to the season. While he slowed down a bit in the second half of last season, a big reason for that could have been due to him getting tired down the stretch and having little protection around him. He was a main stay in a lineup that desperately needed production, and he was the only catcher worth consistently playing last season. This is where the off-season addition of Yasmani Grandal will pay major dividends down the stretch. Having (we’ll say it again) quality depth at catcher is crucial for productivity. This is especially true because like McCann, Grandal has also struggled at times late in seasons due to high usage.
However, its even more clear that this addition forces McCann into a situation where he finds himself as the odd man. Between catcher, first base, and designated hitter, there are four deserving candidates to receive consistent playing time. McCann and Grandal were both All-Stars at catcher last season, while Grandal can play first base and DH and McCann has also seen some time at DH. But Jose Abreu has played first base in every game this season and the Sox also acquired Edwin Encarnacion this past off-season. While Edwin is off to a slow start and some fans are questioning this addition, his track record speaks for itself. He’s the only player over the last eight seasons to hit at least 32 home runs per season. That is exactly what the Sox have been hoping for out of the DH position, which has caused them nothing but trouble the past few seasons. While he’s old and should see an occasional off day, he will still be in the lineup more often than not.
So where does that leave McCann? Well, that leaves him with only 12 plate appearances all season. There’s no question that this is incredibly low for a player that was an All-Star just one season ago. That is why the Sox have nothing to lose by at least giving this idea some thought, seeing as they’ve experimented the possibility of this with less deserving candidates such as Yermin Mercedes. Additionally, the objective of achieving quality depth is becoming increasingly important as Tim Anderson was placed on the 10 day IL on Saturday, leaving another quality option to play right field in Leury Garcia tasked with playing short stop during Tim’s absence.
McCann won’t turn into an ideal right fielder over night, but he’s more athletic than most catchers and getting his bat in the lineup more while creating quality depth are two key factors to success for the White Sox down the stretch.