During Rick Hahn’s first media session of Spring Training on Tuesday, he was asked about the possibility of the White Sox still adding one-year veterans fliers — perhaps at designated hitter or in the outfield.
“We want to give the guys that are here the opportunity to show what they can do,” Hahn said. “If there’s injury or some other unforeseen issue, underperformance, along those lines, then sure, we’ll certainly look at potential ways to augment this roster. But as we sit here today and we’re trying to build for the future, I think giving young players the opportunity to show what they can do at the big league level will serve us better in the long run.”
One of those young players is Charlie Tilson, who will apparently get the first opportunity to stick as starting center fielder.
Tilson, a Wilmette native who was acquired from the Cardinals last summer in exchange for Zach Duke, is the type of player best served on a team like this year’s White Sox. While most of the attention during the build-up to Opening Day will be on the talented young prospects the team acquired in exchange for Chris Sale and Adam Eaton, as well as the veterans who could be shipped off at any moment, players like Tilson, Matt Davidson, and Omar Narvaez will get important opportunities that wouldn’t likely be available on teams expected to contend.
Those three and others are, to this point in their careers, considered fringe major leaguers. With the White Sox, they have a shot to prove they’re legit ones.
Tilson’s profile is that of a fourth outfielder, something Fangraphs’ Eric Longenhagen noted when the Sox acquired him. He’s both hit and gotten on base at a good clip across every level of the minors while with St. Louis, posting a .346 on-base percentage in more than 1,800 plate appearances across four levels.
From BP’s transaction analysis at the time:
Tilson’s best tool is his speed; if it’s not plus-plus, it’s darn close, and when he’s on base, he’s someone pitchers have to pay close attention to. That’s useless if he can’t get on base, but hey, he can do that. He has a line-drive swing with very little wasted movement, and keeps his hands in to shoot line drives to left and center field. There’s very little power here, but if you make a mistake middle-in, he can put it into the gap with the occasional homer or eight. There’s very little swing-and-miss here, and he will draw a decent amount of walks as well.
Tilson doesn’t walk an overwhelming amount but also doesn’t strike out much. He had 46 walks against 72 strikeouts in 594 plate appearances at Double-A in 2015 and 33 walks against 51 strikeouts in 395 Triple-A plate appearances last season prior to the trade.
But, as mentioned in the above write-up, he’s hit well up to this point in his career. The key for him to stick as a major league regular will be whether or not that is able to translate at the major league level. If it does (and that’s a very big if) he suddenly becomes a viable option, and that’s because of his speed.
Assuming the hamstring tear that ended his season last summer didn’t hamper his ability to run too much — something that is yet to be determined — Tilson can use his speed to his advantage. If his hit tool progresses enough that he gets on base at a decent clip, he’ll be a stolen base threat on a regular basis, and the defense will play well enough in center despite the below-average arm.
One of the most fun features to peruse on the BP player cards is the Comparable Players section. Tilson’s comps are littered with other fourth outfielder types — Ezequiel Carrera, Brandon Guyer, Gorkys Hernandez — but the No. 2 player on the list is 2008 Denard Span, another zero-power, plus-speed outfielder who, despite his flaws, wound up putting together eight straight above-average seasons as a regular.
It’s difficult to project Tilson’s bat allowing him become a long-time regular, but his speed and minor-league production has made him intriguing enough for the White Sox to give him a shot. Projects like him are a worthy cause for rebuilding teams, and if his speed can help make him a regular, he’ll help speed up their rebuilding process, too.
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