First home runs are cool, and Trayce Thompson's was no exception.
The product of the White Sox farm system took Hector Santiago deep in the fifth inning of the 3-0 victory over the Angels on Tuesday, and the moment had everything going for it.
No. 1: Like Tyler Saladino before him, it's nice to see a White Sox prospect come up and collect some hits right away. Thompson is 4-for-9 with a double, a homer and a walk thus far.
No. 2: Because his brother is an NBA superstar, more people than usual noticed Thompson's homer and/or cared.
No. 3: A pretty good silent treatment. Notice Thompson showing some selective aggression with his approach to Jose Abreu:
#silenttreatment pic.twitter.com/Bnp8iHY9Ew— South Side Sox (@SouthSideSox) August 12, 2015
No. 4: Thompson hit it off Santiago, who he has known forever, as both completed long climbs up the ladder in the White Sox system.
No. 5: Santiago is left-handed.
That last one is key. While it'd be nice if Thompson hit pitchers of any kind with authority, his minor-league stats consistently featured pronounced traditional splits, and so that's what the White Sox are expecting at this point. If he can hit lefties and play a good center field, he'll have a job.
And the Sox could use that particular skill for a couple reasons. We all know how poorly the offense performed in the first half, and it was even worse against left-handed pitching. The second half brings quite the turnaround, with Thompson's homer the most recent such success:
A lot of it is regression, as Melky Cabrera hit .087 off lefties over the first two months, only to hit .354 since, helping to even up splits that had no platoon (dis)advantage to speak of historically. Adam Eaton, Alexei Ramirez and Carlos Sanchez are also rising to the surface after uncharacteristically ugly starts. That's more than enough to cover for the fluctuation in the other direction from Abreu and Avisail Garcia, who should turn it around in time.
In this sense, they don't need Thompson. But in another sense, they should like having him around, as it makes it a lot easier for Robin Ventura to sit Adam LaRoche.
LaRoche came to Chicago with a history of troubles against lefties, and as you might expect from his season line, he's plummeted to new depths in this department. He started the second half with one hit in 13 at-bats, but that's merely a continuation of an overall slide. Over the last two calendar months, he's 4-for-36 (.111) with zero walks and 14 strikeouts against southpaws.
Benching him against lefties is a sensible and easily justifiable place to start ... well, kinda giving up on him, and Thompson finally gives the Sox a 1) right-handed bat 2) with traditional splits 3) who isn't the backup catcher. Ventura is trying to exercise the luxury while he has it, sitting LaRoche against Danny Duffy on Sunday, and Santiago on Tuesday.
"I think right now you can match it up because we have Trayce here," Ventura said. "If we have (J.B.) Shuck back, it might be a little bit different. If (Emilio Bonifacio) comes back, it might be a little bit different. But having Trayce, I think we can put him in there, we can get Melky time as a DH, get him a little bit of rest. So we can move Trayce around in the outfield."
Of course, Ventura has some say in how long he has said luxury, and the hope is that Thompson is allowed to make a case before a decision about the 25-man roster needs to be made. Thompson's doing what he can so far, and for the manager's part, treating Bonifacio's return as an "if" rather than a "when" is a good sign. The Sox face another lefty in Andrew Heaney tonight. If LaRoche sits once again, we'll know Ventura really means business.