Daniel Palka’s acquisition earlier this month — on a waiver claim from Minnesota — only got a passing mention here. I was out of town at the time, I didn’t see an obvious path for him, and he seemed like somebody who could easily be shuffled out during the Rule 5 draft machinations.
But now that the Sox have prioritized him over in-house 2018 roster candidates like Jordan Guerrero and Jake Peter — and based on a few subsequent questions about Palka — it’s worth fleshing out his profile a bit more, because this blurb I wrote requires a few assumptions everybody might not share:
Guerrero’s absence is conspicuous at a time when Gillaspie and Daniel Palka are recreating the “Two Spider-Men Pointing At Each Other” meme, but some of the 40-man roster’s lumpiness should be mashed out in 10 days when the deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players arrives.
They’re similar in that they’re early-round picks who have aged out of classic “interesting prospect” territory. Gillaspie, a first-round pick, turns 25 in January, while the third-round pick Palka turned 26 last month. Their International League performances also give them the same Quadruple-A look:
- Gillaspie: .246/.323/.414, 72 BB, 138 K over 718 PA
- Palka: .258/.316/.450, 45 BB, 166 K over 585 PA
And they both look like first basemen in the long run. But there are a couple of differences that might be enough to separate them over the length of a full season, for better or for worse.
No. 1: Gillaspie is a switch-hitter; neither has a classic profile.
More precisely, Gillaspie a switch-hitter who has hit better from the right side the past two seasons. The average is better, the command of the strike zone is better, and there’s a slight edge in pop, too.
Palka is a boom-or-bust lefty whose profile has veered away from mashing right-handed pitching over the last few seasons.
- 2015: .962 OPS vs. RHP; .637 OPS vs. LHP
- 2016: .849 OPS vs. RHP; .846 OPS vs. LHP
- 2017: .707 OPS vs. RHP; .881 OPS vs. LHP
A broken finger suffered in late May might contribute to the noise in this particular development.
No. 2: Palka is trying to be a natural outfielder.
Palka started tilting the balance toward outfield play with the Diamondbacks before a trade sent him to the Minnesota organization. With Joe Mauer and Kennys Vargas 1-2 on the organizational depth chart, Palka has played only three games at first base the last two years.
That said, the scouting reports haven’t been enthusiastic, and this anecdote doesn’t inspire much confidence:
[Shane] Robinson pulled no punches in his talks with Palka. Having never seen Palka play live in a real game, Robinson asked him what he viewed as his weaknesses and went from there.
“I just told him, ‘You’re never going to be a blazing outfielder that’s going to run down balls and make ridiculous grabs,’ “he said. “I said, ‘You’re athletic enough to make good catches, but you don’t have to be more than what you are.’ I just told him to understand his game.”
An outfield with Palka in right and Nicky Delmonico in left creates a heart attack in center, but Avisail Garcia is still around to bring credibility to one corner. If Eloy Jimenez opens 2018 in Double-A, Palka and Willy Garcia look like the favorites for starting corner options for Charlotte at this point.
Willy Garcia is a good reason for taking a little time to consider Palka on his own merits, though. He came to the Sox on a waiver claim from Pittsburgh in January and ended up being one of the first outfielders promoted in April despite an even less notable minor-league track record. Palka could end up grabbing a similar share of major league action as the roster shuffles, although an Avisail Garcia trade would result more in a roster earthquake.