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The battle for the fourth outfielder

The usually boring battle for a backup spot could be a lot more important this season.

Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

For once, the White Sox have entered a spring training where most of the backup positions are mostly wide open.  With the Sox having three open backup position, the Sox have some opportunities available.  With some questions in right field and DH that might require some in season replacement or platooning at best, this might be a season where filling the position with someone that fulfills a role might be trumped by bringing in the guy with the highest upside for the positions in question.

The outfield battle has a bigger payoff for the potential backups.  If Avi Garcia collapses out of the gate, there's the possibility of some additional playing time in right.  Also, since Adam Eaton hasn't played in the field at all yet due to offseason shoulder surgery, there's the chance that he won't be ready to start the season.  Finally, a right handed hitting outfielder could also pick up a few extra at bats as the right side of the DH.  So, a fourth outfielder has the potential to get well over the 165 plate appearances that JB Shuck had last season.

JB Shuck is the incumbent for the fourth outfielder job.  He did the job you'd hope for a fourth outfielder to do.  He hit a passable .266/.340/.350. He started at all three outfield positions. He was also 8 for 30 as a pinch-hitter. On the downside, he was seven for twelve in stolen bases, had three other TOOTBLANs, and took the extra base only 37% of the time.  While he did his job, he wasn't a guy that screamed let's give him a chance for more time and certainly not a DH platoon or replacement candidate.

Of the guys from the minors, Jason Coats may be the guy most ready to move to make the jump to the majors.  He's hit 15 and 17 homers over the past two seasons in some hitter friendly parks, but has hit 38 doubles every year in the minors.  On the downside, he's not really a centerfielder.  He played 29 games in center for Charlotte last season, but that was mainly because two other non-outfielders were playing left and right.   From a variety of sources, he has a good arm and does well fielding the corner outfield positions.

Jacob May is the other Sox minor leaguer that seems able to make a decent push for a job to start the season.  May is the stereotypical centerfielder.  He stole 38 bases through two stops last season but was caught 17 times meaning there's some work to be done on his technique.   In the lower levels of the minors, May was able to keep his slugging percentage at least near .400 due to doubles and triples, it fell to .334 last season. Part of that might be due to a concussion suffered from a collision with Tim Anderson, but may be just where he is in his development. This spring training may answer some of those questions.

We've seen a bit of Jerry Sands so far this spring.  Sands has hit well through the minors.  In the majors, it's been another story where he's hit .238/.307/.378 over parts of four seasons.  He can play the two corner outfield positions well enough, and has a decent amount of experience at first base too.

There is of course a chance that the fourth outfielder isn't on the team right now.  The Sox will certainly be talking to teams about every adequate outfielder that's out of options with a blocked path to a 25 man roster.  The few remaining free agents are probably getting calls as well.  For me, it'll be something interesting to watch for once.