Given that, if these trends continue, Charlie Tilson’s whole body will be permanently confined to a walking boot, the White Sox had to make a call about center field. So it was somewhat surprising when they decided to get rid of Peter Bourjos as well, and give the keys to Jacob May, with Leury Garcia as the likely backup.
As Collin discussed in the above article, May is being called up for his speed and his defense. After all, whoever is in center for the 2017 White Sox is likely to be flanked by awful gloves in left and right, albeit while playing home games in a tiny outfield.
However, as the White Sox have demonstrated since George W. Bush left office, there are degrees of futility worth considering beyond “replacement level” as they have plumbed the depths beneath it. And, in May’s case, PECOTA hates his bat, projecting a .223/.275/.336 line as a median outcome for 2017.
For context, Adeiny Hechavarria was the worst qualified full-time hitter last year, batting .236/.283/.311. And, generally, the players putting up the worst offensive stats in a given year will tend to be very good defenders at difficult positions, usually during a bad year. And while it’s true that if May is a great glove in center field, it would not make him anomalously bad, just another one of these defense only players — the Tigers and Cubs both carried players who fit this description for all of ’16 — May’s defense being great is still speculation. May has the tools to be a good defender in center, but it is premature to describe him as plus there at present. And until a player demonstrates a skill, there is no guarantee that it will arrive.
Even if things break well, and May is a good glove, PECOTA foresees his 90th percentile outcome at the dish as .279/.326/.411. Which means that the realistic best case scenario is that May replicates roughly what Austin Jackson was doing last year before he got hurt. And granted, PECOTA isn’t perfect — prospects are much more than their stat lines, and they learn and change all the time. May is a good athlete. Maybe he blows away his 90th percentile projection. But that is still a statement predicated on hope rather than evidence, other than finding his hot streaks in the minors. And it’s not like he ever made any Top 100 lists or anything like that.
There’s also downside, too. Not every player hits their 50th percentile projection. There’s also a chance he gets shredded down below the Mendoza line.
All of this would matter more if the White Sox were trying to win in 2017. And while Rick Hahn has repeatedly said that they are no longer going to rush prospects based on major league needs, I wouldn’t necessarily throw this in his face as a contradiction. Sure, May has not yet demonstrated he can excel against Triple-A pitching, but he is not valuable enough of a prospect to play service time games with, and if James Fegan’s interview with May is any indication, he is a smart enough player to handle the adversity of getting blown away in the majors. At the very least he looks to be getting regular at bats in the majors, rather than sporadic playing time.
And maybe Tilson makes a recovery in two months and this is all just temporary anyway, and maybe May learns valuable things in the majors, and maybe the White Sox get a good read on what May can be, and maybe they learn for sure that he can be a good fourth outfielder someday.
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