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Deep Dive: center field edition, part 3

Adam Engel: his past, present and future with the White Sox

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Chicago White Sox
Flip Side: Adam Engel is an elite defender. His offense? Well, that’s another story.
Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the White Sox organization. Each position will be a four-part series:

“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the White Sox organization. Each position will be a four-part series:

  1. Depth in the lower levels (Dominican through Kannapolis)
  2. Depth in the higher levels (Winston-Salem through Charlotte)
  3. Under the Radar-type detail on one of the White Sox players at that position
  4. Free-agent options at that position, plus sneak peeks into available players in the upcoming 2019 MLB Draft.

This article delves into the career of Adam Engel through 2017, his most recent season with the White Sox, and what his future looks like in the Sox organization.

Adam Engel — how did he get here?

Engel, a native of Cincinnati, played his college ball for the Louisville Cardinals. He enjoyed a decent, if unsensational, sophomore campaign, with a slash line of .308/.367/.341 in 214 at-bats, with just five extra-base hits, 18 RBIs, 37-of-39 stolen bases, 16 walks (6.64%) and 27 strikeouts (11.20%). However, Engel struggled his junior season, to the tune of a .236/.367/.301 slash line with 12 extra-base hits, 28 RBIs, 41 stolen bases, 32 walks (10.29%), 35 strikeouts (11.25%), and an incredible 20 HBP in 246 at-bats. While his average fell in part to a decline in BABIP from .346 to .269, his plate discipline numbers actually showed signs of improvement. Despite his solid outfield defense for the Cardinals and his amazing speed, he fell to the White Sox in the 19th round of the 2013 MLB draft, due largely to hitting concerns.

Engel saw action for three teams (AZL, Kannapolis and Winston-Salem) in 2014, and played fairly well overall. For the year, he hit .264/.335/.400 in 428 at-bats, with 17 doubles, 10 triples, seven homers, 38 RBIs, 39 stolen bases, 38 walks (7.93%) and 113 strikeouts (23.59%). He returned to Winston-Salem in 2015 and, though his average slipped a bit, still showed potential; for the year, he slashed .251/.335/.369 with 23 doubles, nine triples, seven homers, 65 stolen bases, 62 walks (10.2%) and 132 strikeouts (21.71%). That fall, Engel was named Arizona Fall League MVP, after slashing .403/.523/.642 with 16 walks, 10 stolen bases, and 16 runs scored — all numbers in the AFL Top 5.

Engel played for three teams in 2016, and acquitted himself fairly well, all things considered. His overall numbers for Winston-Salem, Birmingham, and Charlotte were relatively similar to 2015: a .259/.344/.406 slash line in 510 at-bats, with 30 doubles, 12 triples, seven homers, 46 RBIs, 45 stolen bases, 56 walks (9.62%) and 131 strikeouts (22.51%).

In 2017, he got off to a miserable start in April for Charlotte, by slashing just .169/.257/.262. He eventually “improved” to hit .218/.312/.461 for the Knights with 12 doubles, two triples, eight homers, 19 RBIs, four stolen bases, 19 walks (9.90%)and 51 strikeouts (26.56%). The White Sox, desperate for outfield help, called Engel up on May 27, but he was completely overmatched. In fact, saying Engel was overmatched may be an understatement. For the White Sox in 301 at-bats, Engel slashed a paltry .165/.235/.282, with 11 doubles, three triples, six homers, 21 RBIs, eight stolen bases, 19 walks (5.65%) and 117 strikeouts (34.82%).

Engel with the White Sox in 2018

Engel made a name for himself with the glove in 2018, eventually garnering Gold Glove consideration after making several homer-saving catches (including three in one series against the New York Yankees). His offense, with the exception of walks, improved significantly as well. (How could it not?) For the year, Engel hit .235/.279/.336 in 429 at-bats with 17 doubles, four triples, six homers, 29 RBIs, 16 stolen bases, 18 walks (3.89%) and 129 strikeouts (27.86%). Despite the improvements, an OPS of .614 doesn’t usually get it done in the majors.

Engel’s bWAR for 2018 was 0.6; factoring the FanGraphs estimate of $7.7 million for each WAR and his $555,000 salary for the year, Engel’s actual net value for the White Sox in 2018 was $4.06 million. Engel’s bWAR was achieved solely with his glove, as he produced a negative bWAR offensively.

Although Engel played exclusively at center field this year, he does have the ability to play the corners when needed. With that said, Engel doesn’t have the requisite cannon arm to play right field regularly.

What are Engel’s biggest issues offensively? Perhaps I should ask how much time you have:

  • Engel’s pop-up rate (11.7%) was far greater than the league average of 7.0%.
  • He swung at pitches 33% of the time, far more than the league average of 28.1%.
  • He swung and missed on 31.4% of pitches, well above the 24.0% league average.
  • While he chased out of the zone 33.4% of the time (league average, 28.2%), he only made contact 51.2% of those times — well below the league average of 60.2%.

What does the future have in store for Engel in a White Sox uniform?

Though he’s made modest improvements with the bat, Engel’s calling card is his glove. Provided the White Sox tender arbitration to Leury Garcia, Engel may end up splitting time in center field — perhaps in a platoon role, although Engel’s splits are fairly even against both southpaws and righties.

Of course, if the White Sox acquire a starting center fielder via trade or free agency, Engel would see his role reduced to being the a late-inning defensive replacement for either Nicky Delmonico/Eloy Jimenez or Avi Garcia. With the consideration given him for the Gold Glove Award, Engel’s value may never be higher, and he could be traded to a team in need of a defensive specialist. Engel will be making league minimum until his arbitration years, which won’t begin until 2021.