Before Yoan Moncada took out Willy Garcia with a flying knee on Monday, Adam Engel impaled himself on a center field stanchion coming up two feet short of a home run. Garcia went on the seven-day concussion disabled list while Rick Renteria gave the other sore guys a day off on Tuesday, but their absences but that only exacerbated one of the underlying problems.
With four regulars on the shelf, the White Sox outfield comprised:
Nick Delmonico in left: He had made only 13 starts in left prior to Tuesday’s game, and all in 2017 for Charlotte.
Leury Garcia in center: The most experienced of the day’s outfielders at his position, he had made a little over 200 appearances between the majors, minors and winter ball.
Alen Hanson in right: His seventh start in right field for the White Sox represents all of his right field starts over his professional career, and one can tell he doesn’t yet have a strong sense of the space:
This is going to be a characteristic of White Sox baseball over the last two months, especially if Avisail Garcia’s thumb problem keeps him out for more than a fortnight. On any evening, the White Sox could be starting less than half of their eight position players at their original positions, and most of them are vying to establish themselves.
This is a dangerous mixture, even if a second player isn’t involved. Engel’s rendezvous with the fence brought to mind Dustin Fowler wrecking his knee along the sidewall earlier this season, or Adam Eaton surviving one-car crashes his first couple years with the Sox. There’s a thin line between Darrin Jackson and Ed Farmer gushing over their all-out effort and scolding them while they’re crumpled on the ground, and they’re not experienced enough to have the big picture readily available.
The instinct to prove oneself often overtakes the instinct to preserve oneself this early, which makes it especially problematic when it takes a rookie into another player’s territory. Veteran know-how can’t entirely eliminate the risk of a collision like Monday night’s — Tim Raines and Ozzie Guillen had logged plenty of miles between left field and shortstop before they met in 1992 — but the inexperience increases the probability.
On the most recent podcast, Josh and I talked about the professionalism the Sox lost over the second half of July. That’s kind of the point of deadline trades, but it shouldn’t go unnoticed, because the players themselves are dealing with it. I could sympathize with Tim Anderson’s reaction to the Todd Frazier trade.
Tim Anderson talked a bit about life without his old locker neighbor Todd Frazier pic.twitter.com/5k6KDtM1d6— James Fegan (@JRFegan) July 22, 2017
The careers of Frazier and Melky Cabrera might have been a net disappointment, but even at their most frustrating points, they generally knew where they and others were supposed to be on the field. They could take charge before plays, as Anderson noted. They could also take charge during plays, like when Cabrera emphatically waved off an oncoming center fielder because he was already set up for a strong throw. And they could take care of things after plays, which is what Jose Abreu is trying to do now.
The July 18 trade of Todd Frazier, Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson to the Yankees came in the midst of a nine-game losing streak and turned a rambunctious Sox clubhouse into a reserved one. After getting knocked around during a three-game sweep in the miserable heat of Kansas City, Abreu saw a low point that served as an opportunity.
Multiple players and manager Rick Renteria confirmed Abreu called a players-only meeting that emphasized how the White Sox wanted to play down the stretch and included specific conversations with position players on how to raise their performance going forward.
One usually associates players-only meetings as desperate attempts to right a capsized team, but here, you can look at it as the White Sox trying to establish a new hierarchy to prevent guys from running into one another. It’s going to take a while, and there will probably be more close calls like the one in short right field while it sorts itself out.
Managing this mess will be one of the biggest challenges for Renteria and his lieutenants over the final two months, and the front office will have to be cognizant of how many of these players — optimists say “utility,” pessimists say “positionless” -- it’s foisting onto the coaching staff. All of these rookies need experience, but not the kind that comes when they didn’t want it.