As I alluded to in Wednesday’s article about Omar Narvaez, 2018 was a season short on things to celebrate for the White Sox and their fans. The team lost 100 games. Shortly before that, they lost their top pitching prospect for a year and a half. The remaining top prospects mostly underperformed or got hurt. Things in general were bleak and misery covered the land.
But one man made it his mission to bring happiness to the South Side. One man decided to make things fun again by hitting monstrous dingers and embracing the weird fans hanging out in his section. He did this without pedigree. He did this without expectations. He came to town to do two things: crush baseballs and chew bubblegum and somehow the White Sox did not manage to order enough bubblegum.
That man was Daniel Palka.
The White Sox grabbed Palka off waivers from the Minnesota Twins last November. He had shown good power early in his minor league career but it tapered off the higher he rose through the farm system, a dangerous outcome for a 1B/DH who can only sort of play corner outfield. Given the logjam the Twins have in those areas, it wasn’t surprising at all that they cut him. It’s not like anyone would have actually predicted what happened next.
The White Sox called Palka up at the end of April. For the rest of the season, he swung as hard as he possibly could at almost every pitch he saw. If the pitcher was right-handed, this worked fairly well (.249/.298/.526). If they were a southpaw? Not so much (.200/.277/.293). His home runs had that Adam Dunn quality to them. That gunshot loud, turn your neck as soon as you hear it crack that left no doubt the ball was going to be a missile over the fence. His walk-off against Cleveland in August was a wonderful season highlight.
Palka wound up leading the Sox in home runs with 27 and finished with a .240/.294/.484 line that could garner him some down ballot Rookie of the Year votes. He engendered himself to the fans with his affability and embracing of the 108 lifestyle. Palka comes off as your well-meaning galoot of a buddy from undergrad who just so happened to stumble into being a pro ballplayer and is making the most of it before the clock strikes midnight. His season was definitely a success, though there are definitely concerns about how productive he can be going forward. He managed to adjust after both of his down months, but we’re still talking about striking out five times for every walk and there’s not terribly many places you can hide him defensively. It’s not unreasonable to believe he could be the better half of a DH platoon or an incredibly useful bench bat on a more robust roster, so there’s definitely a role for him on next year’s team at least.
Oh, and those 27 home runs? That’s three more than anyone hit for Minnesota last season.