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J.B. Shuck making case for final White Sox bench spot

White Sox have opportunity for outfielder to stick after getting buried with the Angels

Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports

The White Sox were so close to fielding a very realistic Opening Day lineup card on Tuesday:

Then Adam Eaton had to go and ruin it by getting sick. J.B. Shuck took Eaton's place, at least in the field (he batted ninth).

And this raises the question: Is that what it's going to look like if and when Eaton misses time (or just takes a day off) this season?

At this point, probably. Shuck went 2-for-3 in Eaton's place, raising his line to .348/.400/.348. He doesn't have an extra-base hit, but he has eked out a few extra bags with three stolen bases steals in three attempts.

Shuck is a perfect replacement for Eaton in a few respects:

  • Under 6 feet tall
  • Left-handed
  • From Ohio

But when it comes to historical performance, the 27-year-old has been a better butt double than a stunt double. His top-of-the-order type stats in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League (.381 OBP, 154 walks to 95 strikeouts over 361 Triple-A games) haven't translated to the big leagues, where he looks like a guy who pitchers attack until Shuck can provide a reason not to:

2011 24 HOU 37 92 22 2 1 0 3 2 0 11 7 .272 .359 .321 .680 91
2013 26 LAA 129 478 128 20 3 2 39 8 4 27 54 .293 .331 .366 .697 98
2014 27 LAA/CLE
38 114 16 1 0 2 9 2 0 3 12 .145 .168 .209 .377 8
3 Yrs 204 684 166 23 4 4 51 12 4 41 73 .264 .307 .333 .640 82

But his full season with the Angels two years ago was useful, and so is the fact that Shuck doesn't really have platoon splits across his MLB career:

  • vs. RHP: .257/.300/.327 over 540 PA
  • vs. LHP: .293/.333/.353 over 144 PA

I wouldn't call them reverse splits, because he fared a little better against righties in the minors. He probably hangs in equally effectively against either.

That would normally be a drawback -- it's usually better to be good at something than meh at everything -- but he's backing up outfielders with no noteworthy splits themselves. There are no platoon or pinch-hitting opportunities to be had, so his playing time is going to come in the form of defensive caddying and random days on. And they can be random, as Shuck's starts won't be dependent on the handedness of the starting pitcher.

Defensively, he's pretty much the same. The metrics say that he can play all three positions with some ability in the corners, but not consistently enough to call him a "standout" yet. It's not for a lack of tools (this video covers arm and his range in left):

But watching him get too close to the wall on a drive to the left-center corner for a triple on Tuesday, I'm guessing his lines aren't always sound.

That still qualifies him to be a clear cut or two above Melky Cabrera and Avisail Garcia, so he meets the job requirements at this point. Based on the skill set, his performance and the edge in playing time, I'm guessing he'll get the nod to come north, even though he has an option remaining and Trayce Thompson is keeping him honest:

Shuck 9 26 8 0 0 0 2 3 3 0 .348 .400 .348
Thompson 13 19 7 0 0 1 1 1 0 1 .412 .421 .588

In fact, Thompson hit a game-tying two-run homer for the Sox after replacing Shuck in the eighth inning. He's having the spring he needs to have, but the 24-year-old hasn't yet played at Charlotte, so a minor-league assignment has more use for him.

Robin Ventura wants Thompson to keep his head up:

"He puts a lot of pressure on himself,’’ Ventura said. "He’s got a ton of talent, good kid, and I think he just needs to go out and play with the confidence that he should have. He can do everything on the field.’’

And it would behoove him to do so, should he start the season at Triple-A. Eaton, Cabrera and Garcia have all missed chunks of time over the last few seasons, and if one of them hits the DL for any serious length of time, Thompson would be the only outfielder you'd hope to see.