Jordan Danks' third time on the White Sox's 25-man roster this season has been the charmed one. Since his most recent call-up at the end of July, he's hitting .333/.379/.519 with two homers and four doubles over 58 plate appearances. On top of that, he's stolen four bases in five attempts and has lived up to his reputation defensively.
"My wife and I always joke around, I have a baby on the way, so maybe I have a little daddy strength now," Danks offered.
The Danks baby is expected to arrive Nov. 2 to cap a hectic season for the family, which has bounced back and forth between Triple-A Charlotte and Chicago several times. Since his third call-up this season July 31, he was hitting .353 with two home runs and five RBIs entering Wednesday.
"The time I spent going up and down, you have to take the good with the bad," Danks said. "Getting to play every day in Charlotte and getting comfortable and getting in sort of groove and then coming back up here and getting more consistent playing time has helped."
This recent surge could mean that he's made the necessary strides to stick on a major-league roster in some capacity. There's no question that he's a different hitter compared to last year. His arms are doing less of the work, there's more rotation in his hips, and he's able to turn on pitches far more frequently. For years, Danks struck out way too much for a guy who couldn't pull the ball in the air, and he's started to find a middle ground this time.
Even last year, REDDICKDUDNMOOOOOOOOO aside, he tilted the opposite way more often:
Contrast it with this year -- or this recent stint, at least -- and his outfield spray chart is much more balanced, with far more dots near (and past) the wall.
On the other hand, the green dots outnumber the red dots in the outfield by an unnatural margin, which is what a .457 BABIP looks like. Although he's made definite improvements to make better contact, he hasn't shaken his swing-and-miss tendencies as much as one would like. This sets the stage for a dramatic tug of war between two opposing forces over the final month, and we'll see which side gives first -- provided he gets enough plate appearances in September for whatever regression to run its course.
This is something that could have been figured out by now had the White Sox not signed Dewayne Wise.
Back when the White Sox signed Wise to a one-year, $700,000 deal in November, I noted that Wise's second tour on the South Side mirrored his first through the first eight steps. He added a ninth step when he got off to a rough start, then got injured. In 2009, it was a separated shoulder. In 2013, it was a pulled hamstring. The similarities finally ended when Wise never came back after the injury (the Sox released him on Aug. 3).
Given that his trajectory was so easy to map, it was hard to see why the Sox rushed to re-sign Wise instead of exploring all options. The Sox were the only team to give him major-league contracts since 2008, and they waited two months before cutting him, so there could be some unspoken bond that transcends 25-man roster dynamics.
But the risk in committing to Wise was that it could waste time better spent on learning about an unproven young player, and that's what happened here. Fortunately, the stakes aren't all that high. If the jury is still out on Danks at the end of the year, they can bring him back as a fourth outfielder in 2014 and do it all over again. It would only be particularly damaging if the Sox thought Danks could be half of a cheap major-league platoon, but I don't think any starting plans hinge on him.
In reality, a strong finish to the season would probably put him in the same situation as Brent Lillibridge after 2011. Lillibridge provided a lot of value (and fun!) with a breakout season, but the Sox didn't bank on a repeat. Instead, they limited him to a modest first-man-off-the-bench role to see if he could do it again, and when he failed, it didn't really hurt them. In fact, Kenny Williams somehow turned him into Kevin Youkilis, which is hard to comprehend.
There's a lesson from the Wise signing, but since the Sox are in talent-evaluation mode, I don't think zero-upside plays are a major concern anymore. But the Lillibridge saga does provide a moral for Danks -- if you're trying to think ahead for your young family, don't start counting your arbitration years before they hatch. At least out loud.