Left Field – Once a Weak Spot, Now a Strength for White Sox

For the last two off-seasons, the White Sox have tried to address their left field situation. Unfortunately, the off-season leading into the 2014 season came and went for the club leaving them with both Dayan Viciedo and Alejandro DeAza still on the roster. The goal going in had been to move Viciedo and leave DeAza as the everyday left fielder, but with the start of spring training on them, the time ran out on the move. So they became stuck with both players and decided to use them in a platoon fashion in left field and occasionally at the designated hitter position.
Sox fans are well aware that the plan didn’t work out so well. Viciedo hit a measly .231 for an average and DeAza ended up being traded to Baltimore after hitting a mediocre .243 average.
So that left General Manager Rick Hahn with a decision to make during this off-season. One option was to go with Viciedo again in left field with the hope that he figures out how to hit with better consistency. The other option would be to try to trade him and find someone else on the market. The Sox would end up going with option number two because, with the moves that had been made before and while at the winter meetings, they showed the league that they were going to be serious about building a team to compete this season. The Sox were able to lock in one of the better left fielders off the free agent market.
Switch hitter Melky Cabrera joined the Sox in December on a 3-year, $42 million contract to become the team’s new everyday left fielder. He comes to the south side as a better defender and hitter then the Sox have rolled out there in recent times.
Defensively Cabrera hasn’t had a season where he’s committed more than 4 errors which happens to be half of the total Viciedo had last season by himself. While Viciedo may have a better arm than Cabrera, the Sox and their fans would rather have a player in the outfield that can make smart plays and limit stupid mistakes.
Offensively Cabrera brings much more to the table that fits the White Sox plans better than either DeAza or Viciedo would have. He might not have the power Viciedo had, but he brings versatility with his ability to be a contact hitter. Cabrera struck out only 67 times last season in 621 plate appearances. He only strikes out at an awesome one in ten plate appearances rate compared to Viciedo who struck out every one in five plate appearances.
It seemed like an off-season in which Hahn and Sox management went out looking for free agents that made more contact than the player they were replacing, and that’s just what they got in Melky Cabrera.
The question that’s left for Manager Robin Ventura is where to slot this switch hitting contact hitter in the lineup.
For a player with his hitting ability and with the hitters they’re surrounding him with the best answer would be as the second hitter. The reason being, he makes a lot of contact and hits for a high average with runners on base. Cabrera has a career .311 batting average on balls in play. More importantly with men on base he has a .315 batting average on balls in play. With that production in mind, and if Adam Eaton can reproduce his production from 2014, it would set up the heart of the lineup to improve their RBI chances. The “get them on, get them over, get them in” philosophy will be key at the top of the lineup and will be what makes the Sox successful this season.
Another reason he’d be great behind Eaton is his versatility as a switch hitter. If the Sox run a lineup of Adam Eaton, Melky Cabrera, Jose Abreu, Adam LaRoche, Avisail Garcia out there and could use Conor Gillaspie and Alexei Ramirez after that, it would give the Sox a lefty-righty combination through the seventh spot in the order. That lineup would also feature three .300-plus hitters at the top of it.
To try to find depth at the left field position, the Sox have also signed former Angel and 2013 American League Rookie of the Year candidate J.B. Shuck, former Chicago Cub Emilio Bonifacio, as well as invited prospects Courtney Hawkins, Jared Mitchell, and Michael Taylor to camp this spring.
First, the left-handed hitting J.B. Shuck currently stands as the backup to Melky Cabrera in left, and he’s coming off a miserable year where he hit .145 for an average in 38 games for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Cleveland Indians. However, two seasons ago he was in the running for the American League Rookie of the Year Award. That season he hit .293 in 437 at-bats. So, worst case scenario for the team, they could end up stashing Shuck in Triple-A Charolette and let him find his way again since he’s under team control until 2020.
Next on WhiteSox.com’s depth chart for left field is Emilio Bonifacio. The journeyman utility player is all over the depth chart listings. In fact, he’s listed at all the infield positions except first base and every outfield position. Although he is listed at all those positions, Bonifacio has been mentioned to mostly platoon at third and to fill in at shortstop and second when necessary. The Sox are hoping that without injury Bonifacio won’t see much time past the lip of the infield.
The three prospects from the minors, Jared Mitchell, Courtney Hawkins, Michael Taylor are likely non-roster invitees to evaluate how they do against major league pitchers. Taylor did see some time in the pros last September when call-ups were made. He hit .250 for an average in his limited appearance in 2014, but carried a combined average of both pros and the minors of .273.
As long as Melky Cabrera stays healthy throughout the whole 2015 season and doesn’t go down the PED path again, the left field position on defense and in the lineup will be one of the team’s strengths this coming season.

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