What do the White Sox have at each position after the 2014 offseason? The picture has gotten a bit clearer with the recent cuts and reassignments. Let's take a look at the White Sox's center field position to see how it stacks up for 2014 and beyond.
A True Leadoff Man
Adam Eaton came to the White Sox in a three-way trade with the Diamondbacks and Angels. His grittiness and peskiness at the top of the line was what he was known for at the time of the trade and thus far he has lived up to the bill. Although he isn't hitting for power, and wasn't expected to, he is getting on base at a .364 clip. This ranks him third among AL center fielders in on-base percentage behind Jacoby Ellsbury and Austin Jackson very early into the 2014 season. He also ranks second in contact rate behind Michael Brantley of the Indians. Eaton's 4.18 pitches seen per plate appearances is 6.9% above league average and this only ranks him third on the White Sox in number of pitches seen per plate appearance (Semien - 4.52 and Dunn - 4.48).
Behind him there isn't another true center fielder on the major league roster. That is until Jordan Danks gets called up to replace Avisail Garcia after the news from earlier today. So let's talk about him. Danks has appeared in 129 big league games over the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Danks is stellar defensively in center field.
However, his major flaw has been strike outs. Over 254 plate appearances in the majors (small-ish sample size warning) Danks struck out 28.7% of the time. For reference, this is about 1.5% less than Mark Reynolds' strike out rate in 2013 who is a knock hacker. Additionally, this trend has gotten worse in an even smaller sample in Charlotte this year where he has struck out in an unbelievable 40.7% of his plate appearances.
With the call-up for Danks, that leaves only Blake Tekotte and Jared Mitchell as the center fielders in Charlotte. Even though Tekotte is only 26 years-old he doesn't appear to have much development left in his career. He hasn't shown much ability to hit in his brief time in the majors or in the high minors. His defense and base running are assets...as a fifth or sixth outfielder.
Mitchell was the White Sox first round draft pick in 2009. If only we could have a do-over.
Mitchell was a highly touted prospect who has gradually lost his status after a freak injury during spring training in 2010. Mitchell's calling card is athleticism but unfortunately to this point he hasn't been able to apply his tools to the game of baseball successfully. Mitchell consistently posts strike out rates of over 30% and in his time with Charlotte since 2012 he has never had a K% below 37.6%. His defense and base running are plus tools as well as his raw power but he needs to make more contact consistently to make use of his other tools.
Trayce Thompson will occupy the most time in Birmingham's center field in the early going. It seems like Thompson has been in the White Sox organization for quite some time and he has. While only 23 years-old, Thompson was drafted out of high school by the White Sox in 2009. He hit well through Low and High-A and even in short stints with Birmingham and Charlotte to end the 2012 season. Unfortunately, it all fell apart after that. Last season with Birmingham he hit .229/.321/.383 while playing solid defense in center. Thompson will need to boost those numbers a bit to regain his prospect status. So far this year, he isn't doing much to help his cause (.250/.280/.292).
Keenyn Walker has almost completely lost any semblance of prospect status that he had remaining. After busting onto the scene early in his career, his last two seasons have been pretty lackluster. Walker struck out almost 30% of the time in each of the last two season, which appears to be a common theme amongst White Sox outfielders. However, in his defense, he has an excellent eye at the plate, which is evidenced by his walk rate. He walked 12% of the time last season in Birmingham and walked nearly 15% of the time in Low and High A.
The Lower Levels
The center field position thins out pretty quickly as you get to the lower levels of the White Sox organization. Jacob May, the White Sox 2013 third round draft pick, had a great rookie debut last season as he split time between Great Falls and Kannapolis. He hit .303/.372/.458 between the two levels but is off to a slow start in 2014.
Like May, Adam Engel was also drafted in 2013 but in the 19th round. He hit well in his rookie campaign at Great Falls and will start this season as the center fielder with Kannapolis. He is another fast, athletic outfielder that the White Sox seem to love but at least some scouts have good things to say about his approach early in the 2014 season.
In 2012 the White Sox signed young center fielder Antonio Rodriguez out of the Dominican Republic for $400,000. He spent most of the 2013 season in rookie ball but was brought over to the States to play seven games with Bristol, now a Pittsburgh Pirates minor league affiliate, and did not hit well. He is still only 18 years-old though so he has time to develop.
May and Engel will be interesting players to watch at the lower levels. Both players had break out rookie seasons and will start this year at the next level up. Trayce Thompson still has some potential but he will need to start putting it together soon to remain relevant. And of course there is our beloved Spanky at the major league level. Eaton is under team control through 2018, which will be plenty of time to see how deep under the opponents skin the 'dirtbag' can get.