White Sox fans my age grew up with stacked outfields. Tim Raines, Bo Jackson, Ellis Burks, Albert Belle, Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Lee … Fast forward to 2017 and, well, I’m a pretty big fan of Melky Cabrera, but this year’s outfield does not look like the ones of old, and that’s even before acknowledging Cabrera will almost certainly be traded at some point rather than simply letting him hit free agency.
Big picture, the organization already has a fairly clear path forward on the infield, with Tim Anderson adjusting to the majors and Yoan Moncada not far behind. Rick Hahn et al. insist Zack Collins can catch, which is unlikely but not impossible, but even if he can’t he will likely slide over to first base without much issue. The pitching plan is even more obvious, particularly given the trade hauls for Chris Sale and Adam Eaton skewed heavily to the pitching side.
The outfield, however, remains a mystery. Charlie Tilson will get the bulk of the plate appearances in center this year, and rightfully so. If he was not permanently harmed by his hamstring injury, he should be able to handle it defensively and the organization needs to learn just how much he can do with a bat in the majors. But unless and until Tilson changes his forecast, he cannot be trusted to be anything more than a bench player long term. Rymer Liriano and Avisail Garcia are going to get opportunities to do their lotto ticket type things in the corners, and Adam Engel and Jacob May are less promising options behind Tilson in turn.
But years of misses in the draft on players like Courtney Hawkins, Keenyn Walker, and Jared Mitchell have left the system thin, with Jameson Fisher and Alex Call being the next names of note after Luis Basabe. Basabe is years away and full of risk. Fisher and Call are college performers who were available in the third and fourth round due to serious questions about their ultimate ceiling in the majors.
The White Sox should not prioritize any particular position in seeking trade returns. Generally speaking, and certainly at this stage, they should seek out the most talent possible and the prospects they think are best and sort it out later. If you want to know what it looks like when you disobey this principle, think about what the Royals got for Carlos Beltran so many years ago.
However, the organizational depth chart is screaming out for help here, and it’s something that can be addressed in a trade if the right situation presents itself. The Mets, for example, have more outfielders than they can play, and it is starting to hinder the development of legitimate prospects like Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto. There could be a fit here in terms of the needs of these two teams, and it’s something to keep an eye on moving forward.
Or perhaps this is simply a position they keep rolling the dice on until everything else is in place and finish the next contender off with a few free agents. As far as a team building strategy goes it’s not a bad one, as the outfield should be one of the easier problems to address.
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