While the White Sox entered the season stronger than a true rebuilding team, the depth chart featured a few booby traps, with a thin cover at the top masking massive craters below. These roster spots were only settled through April, and when the calendar turned, revisions could be expected.
Dylan Covey is one. The Rule 5 pick is getting killed by Inning 5, as opponents are hitting .500/.529/.938 against him in the fifth. It’s admittedly a small sample -- 17 whole plate appearances — but the fifth inning is also known as the time the batting order starts its third time through, which makes sense given Covey’s limited repertoire and experience. The Sox have won by pulling him after four, but that’s not tenable for long-term success.
The Rule 5’s actual rules force the White Sox to keep Covey on the 25-man roster or work out a trade with Oakland to get him to the minors. If they like Covey but don’t want to use resources in retaining him, the ideal balance might be a long-relief role to absorb innings from abbreviated Carson Fulmer or Reynaldo Lopez starts in the not-too-distant future.
Cody Asche is another. He’s hitting .093/.152/.093 and wasting no time crashing into his track record:
- 2015: -1.0 fWAR, -0.9 bWAR over 129 games
- 2016: -0.6 fWAR, -0.8 bWAR over 71 games
- 2017: -0.8 fWAR, -0.8 bWAR over 13 games
He’s already fallen from the DH platoon to the bench, and now further action is needed. It’d be nice if Nicky Delmonico had a good series on the road. He posted a 1.296 OPS at Charlotte’s BB&T Ballpark in April, and a .468 OPS away from it.
But Jacob May ended up being the first casualty among the short-term patches. The White Sox optioned him to Charlotte on Monday, shortly after he collected his second hit of the season ... in his 40th plate appearance. Besides the single, he also struck out twice, which made it six K’s in his last eight plate appearances, and his defense didn’t stand out (his preference for too-shallow positioning didn’t help).
May’s demotion — with a corresponding move coming later today — isn’t the White Sox’ first roster switch of the season, but it’s the first one dictated by performance instead of injury, and so it’s a first for Rick Renteria as a manager of this team:
“He might have been a little overmatched,” Renteria said. “That’s just the bottom line. You want to make excuses for it. Might have been a little overmatched right now. He had a great spring, showed a lot of hard work, tenacity, even here going and working with the guys and trying to get himself back on track, trying to keep his confidence up. His energy has always been the same. It’s very consistent. He’s done everything for the work in the field and working with the guys in the cages and everything else we could have asked of him. He was doing everything he needed to do. Just things weren’t happening.”
May has plenty of company in the “things weren’t happening” department, but he had a few other things working against him. Unlike Covey, he can be optioned. Unlike Asche, he needs to play to continue developing. And unlike either, the Sox had already solved the problem for the time being, because Leury Garcia has made legitimate strides to contribute.
Entering the season, Garcia’s speed and versatility made him an easy-to-carry bench player if he could only cut down on the swinging and missing, and look what he’s done to his strikeout rate:
- 2013-16: 30.8% over 331 PA
- 2017: 10.8% over 65 PA
Yet again, 65 plate appearances is a small sample size, but it’s not that small for strikeout rate, which becomes evident quicker than other measures. Moreover, the improvement is so drastic that it’d take a calamitous fortnight to get back to where he used to be, and it’s fueled by simply hitting pitches inside the zone.
Watching Garcia over his previous cups of coffee, I was kinda baffled how he could miss so wildly over the heart of the plate, with a recoil reminiscent of a wiffle ball player holding a beer with his off hand. The early returns show that he’s closed up that staggering weakness:
It’d feel flukier if Garcia’s success were the result of sudden selectivity, since that’s never been his strong suit. That’s not the case here. His chase rate is in line with his career average, and he’s swinging at a career-high 56 percent of pitches.
Rather, Garcia’s April looks like a strong response to the way opponents saw him in the past. He’s seeing a career-high amount of strikes (55.5 percent), probably because he couldn’t square up all that many of them before. His success rate inside the strike zone wasn’t much greater than a pitcher hitting for himself, and the league treated him as such.
As a result, his opening month is basically a long con that paid off to the tune of a .306/.323/.484 line, five doubles, two homers and center field for himself. Now the microscope shifts, and what April was for Jacob May, the month of May will be for Garcia, at least assuming the new outfielder won’t cut into the playing time in center field
Reality shouldn’t be as harsh here, because Garcia has already learned from his lumps. He probably won’t continue outproducing Jose Abreu, Todd Frazier and Melky Cabrera, but as long as he’s not swinging through ordinary strikes, he should be a rosterable big league player, which is all the White Sox need in center field for the next few weeks. After that, they’ll survey the options again.