The key pieces of the White Sox rebuild are just beginning to arrive in Chicago with recent promotions of Yoan Moncada and Reynaldo Lopez, two top prospects the White Sox envision as part of their next core. There’s still a long list of players the White Sox hope will join them in the years to come, but no matter how many of those guys live up to their potential, any successful team needs to be equipped with players that fit certain non-starring roles, whether it be as second division starters, bench pieces, or bullpen arms.
Just look at the most recent White Sox wannabe-contenders. Despite having a core of Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Adam Eaton, and Jose Abreu, the White Sox floundered while giving everyday at bats to the likes of Jerry Sands and J.B. Shuck. Quad-A bats and arms surrounded the White Sox stars and ultimately played a large role in dooming the White Sox in their ill-fated pursuit of the playoffs.
One of the benefits of going fully scorched Earth with their rebuild, as the White Sox have, is that you begin to get a closer look at players with a chance to fill those roles. Watching Moncada every day and Lopez every fifth day is the highlight of the remaining two months, undoubtedly, and seeing players like Matt Davidson, Avisail Garcia, Yolmer Sanchez, and Leury Garcia take steps forward in their development has been a pleasant surprise, but the White Sox have a few other, even lesser known players, with a chance to prove they can fill certain roles in the future. I’ve highlighted four players below who have been given rare opportunities and have shown, at times, flashes of that type of potential thus far this season.
1. Nicky Delmonico set a White Sox franchise record on Saturday when he reached base in his 12th consecutive game to start his major league career. The sample size is obviously incredibly small (49 plate appearances), but he’s impressed in the short term. Delmonico has played both the outfield and infield corners during his minor league career, but his versatility may be a bit overstated because while he can, in theory, play those positions, he’s yet to prove he can play any of them well. Thus, his ability to stick around at the major league level will be based almost entirely on continued offensive production. So far, so good, as both his swing and contact percentages are right in line with the league average, as are his strikeout and walk rates. Still, a .483 BABIP suggests quite a bit of luck when contact is made, so the jury’s still out as to whether or not Delmonico’s surprising debut is more than just that of a guy who finds some small sample size success during the second half of an otherwise lost season.
2. As a 19th round pick in the MLB Draft just three years ago, and someone who had Tommy John surgery just two years ago, Aaron Bummer has already surpassed most reasonably expectations for his major league career. And while he’s thrown just 7 2/3 innings in the majors thus far, his quick ascent through the minor league ranks speak to the White Sox confidence that he could be a valuable bullpen asset. Given that he’s a left-hander whose fastball sits 93-95 mph with a wipeout slider to boot, it’s easy to see why. Bummer’s ceiling is likely that of a mid-inning reliever, but considering where he came from, finding someone you can potentially plug into mid-relief for the foreseeable future is not nothing.
3. If there’s one thing we knew about Adam Engel throughout his minor league career it’s that his speed was real and his defense in center field seemed to be a strength. What we weren’t sure about is if his bat could hang around against major league pitching.
— Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) August 12, 2017
Must C: Adam Engel races back to the warning track, leaps up and makes an outstanding catch to rob Brian McCann of a home run. pic.twitter.com/EzXBoETlv2
— Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) August 9, 2017
Engel’s defense is legit, and the metrics agree as he’s put up 4.5 FRAA in limited playing time. The same can’t be said about his bat as he’s put up a .204/.273/.331 line and a 29.9 percent strikeout rate in 177 plate appearances entering play Sunday. He was always fighting an uphill battle offensively, and it’s possible he ultimately falls into the category of “above average defender who becomes unplayable because of his offensive shortcomings,” but with any improvement, there’s at least a chance he hangs around as a fourth outfielder/pinch runner/defensive substitute long term.
4. The offensive threshold for backup catchers isn’t very high, and thus, there’s nothing wrong with the .276/.307/.381 and 82 wRC+ Kevan Smith has put up in 194 plate appearances this season. Smith is different from the other three guys I’ve mentioned in that he’s not young — 29 years old despite not making his major league debut until last season — but he’s proved he can handle the bat at least to a certain extent at the major league level. Likewise, while the threshold for White Sox catchers is incredibly low over the last two seasons, he’s proved to be better in terms of framing than any other White Sox catcher in 2016 or 2017. The issue with Smith behind the plate is the running game, as opposing base stealers are 42-for-45 in attempts with Smith behind the plate this year. At 29 with a limited skill set and one very glaring weakness, both his ceiling and his floor are pretty low, but if the White Sox ever do figure out their catcher situation — internally or externally — there are worse backup options around than Smith.
The line between these aforementioned players having meaningful major league careers and being nothing more than roster filler for a bad team during a bad season is very, very thin. But all have been given a rare opportunity to show the White Sox they can stick around beyond this year.
5. The White Sox hadn’t made a trade in two whole weeks, but our long trade-less spell finally ended when news broke late Sunday that they traded Tyler Clippard to the Houston Astros in exchange for the well-traveled PTBNL or Cash Considerations.
Clippard threw 10 innings in his White Sox career after coming over as salary filler in the deal that sent David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, and Todd Frazier to the Yankees, and was mostly fine. After allowing two runs in his first 2 1/3 innings post-trade, he threw 7 2/3 scoreless innings over his final eight appearances.
This means very little in the long term, of course. As I mentioned, Clippard was a veteran throw-in that helped save the Yankees some of the money they were taking on in the form of Robertson and Frazier. He’ll likely provide some help to the slumping Astros and in exchange for either further salary relief or a non-prospect throw in we’ll learn about a few months down the road.
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