As Spring Training baseball heats up so does the competition. The Chicago White Sox are in the midst of their Cactus League schedule in Arizona but the action in the clubhouse is hotter than the action on the field these days. The franchise spent the offseason rebuilding it’s infield but the outfield picture isn’t quite clear. Centerfielder Adam Eaton had shoulder surgery in the offseason and has been limited to the designated hitters role during these exhibition games so far as a pre-caution. But there have been other issues as well.
The two men who started in the outfield with Eaton last season, Melky Cabrera (left field) and Avisail Garcia (right field), didn’t exactly have their best seasons on Chicago’s south side in 2015. Cabrera had a .273/.314/.394 slash line to go with 12 home runs and 77 runs batted in. He also struck out 88 times and grounded into 18 double plays, the second-highest total of his career. Garcia wasn’t much better as he played in his first full season after missing most of 2014 with a shoulder injury that required surgery.
Garcia’s 2015 slash line was an unimpressive .257/.309/.365. He also had 13 homers, 59 RBI’s, 141 strikeouts, and only seven stolen bases. General manager Rick Hahn knew he needed to either make a change, or find a way to push Garcia and Cabrera come spring training. He was unsuccessful in trying to land Yoenis Cespedes, Alex Gordon, and Dexter Fowler who all decided to remain with the New York Mets, Kansas City Royals, and Chicago Cubs respectively. He did land former Cleveland Indian Jerry Sands in free agency, he also has J.B. Shuck on the roster but both men are known more for their defensive skills.
So last week Hahn decided to really shake things up by bringing in free agent outfielder Austin Jackson on a one-year, $5 million contract. Jackson will add a new dynamic to the White Sox offense. Last year Jackson played for both the Chicago Cubs and Seattle Mariners. And between both teams he batted .267 with 48 RBI’s, 37 extra base hits, and 17 stolen bases. Jackson brings speed, solid base running, defense, and is a scoring threat.
Combine him with Eaton at the top of the lineup and first baseman Jose Abreu will have a few extra RBI’s this summer. This also has the potential to push either Garcia or Cabrera either into a platoon situation, or out of the lineup altogether. Having Sands and Shuck on the roster also complicates matters. So both men need to find way to stay in the lineup and they need to step up big in 2016. Here is now they can do that……
The first thing both men need to do is stay healthy. Garcia’s shoulder injury from 2014 was a big part of why he struggled at times last season. Cabrera played in 158 games last year and he’ll need to keep up that pace. They will also need to increase their offensive production, especially since they’ll be hitting near the middle of the batting order. The White Sox -on paper at least- are primed to be a much improved offensive team this year.
The performances of Garcia and Cabrera will go a long way in determining how much improvement will be reflected in the box scores.