Yolmer Sanchez got the nod for the Sox in the Cactus League opener this afternoon against the Los Angeles Dodgers at the spring training complex they share in Arizona. Is Sanchez the guy the Sox will go with in the lead off spot for the majority of the season? It’s hard to tell, and it’s probably going to be a fluid situation throughout the long stretch of 162 games. We still don’t know who the competitive White Sox are yet, and my guess is Rick Hahn and company aren’t 100% certain either.
Anybody over 30 years old, perhaps, remembers what a lead off hitter used to look like. He was fast. He stole bases. He was a slap hitter, some might call him “pesky”. He didn’t strikeout too much.
Well, that may be an antiquated view of the modern lead off hitter. The modern lead off hitter doesn’t necessarily have to be fast-instead maybe efficient or intelligently aggressive on the bases. Who steals bases other than Dee Gordon and Billy Hamilton anymore? Slap hitters like Juan Pierre are an endangered species. We are in the very beginning of the mega-juiced ball era, where guys that weigh 159 pounds hit 20 homers a year. OBP and seeing lots of pitches make a leadoff hitter today. And strikeouts? Hitters strikeout so much nowadays, it’s almost like they think it’s cool. “I was going for the home run. I’ll get it next time.”
Anyway, what potential lead off hitters do the Sox have in the stable? Let’s find out.
The aforementioned Sanchez has pretty good speed, but his on base percentage was just .319 last season. You’d like to see your lead off hitter’s OBP be around .350 on a competitive team. Stolen bases were hard to come by for Sanchez in 2017, as he was thrown out (9 times) more than he was successful (8 times). While Sanchez’s K to BB rate isn’t as abysmal as some others on the club (Tim Anderson 162-13, Matt Davidson 165-19, Adam Engel 117-19), it still could use improvement at 111-35.
Yoan Moncada batted just .231 in 231 plate appearances last season, but he saw a lot of pitches waiting for his pitch to drive, and his on base percentage was a respectable .338. He walked 29 times in the aforementioned plate appearances, which means with the same plate discipline next year he could walk approximately 65-70 times.
Moncada’s OBP at High A and Double A in 2016 with the Red Sox organization was .407. In Triple A last season with the White Sox it was .377. He stole 45 bases in 57 attempts in 2016 and fell off in 2017, stealing 17 in 25 attempts. Despite the dip, he has Tasmanian Devil speed, and he’s a scene stealer on the bases once he gains momentum. He has gap to gap power, so doubles and triples in a cloud of dust could be the norm in 2018 if everything goes according to plan.
I’m not saying he’s going to lead off, but I am saying the idea is pretty cool.
The other candidates could be the three fellas competing with Engel for the starting job in center field. Charlie Tilson batted .500 for the Sox in 2016. Unfortunately, it was a small sample size of two at bats in one game. He came off the field with an injury before that game ended, and he did not play at the major league level at all in 2017. In his last full year in the minors with the Cardinals Double A affilitate in 2015, Tilson stole 46 bases in 65 attempts, and his OBP was .351.
Ryan Cordell has above average speed and some pop in his bat. At Double A Frisco in the Texas organization in 2016, he hit 19 home runs and had a total of 46 extra bases hits. In that same season, Cordell stole 12 bases in 16 attempts and had a slightly below average OBP of .319 (Fangraphs lists an average OBP at .320).
Leury Garcia more than doubled his previous high in plate appearances for a season at the major league level last year at 326. He posted a .270/.316/.423 line with 9 home runs and 33 runs batted in. He stole 8 bases in 13 attempts with an OBP unsuitable for a lead off hitter at .316.
If I had a vote, Moncada would be my guy. You want a high-end comparison, again for you older folks that might have seen him play? Rickey Henderson without the astronomical stolen base numbers. Think great eye, great base running, power, a sick OBP, and of course, speed.
Henderson’s career OBP is .401. That is not a misprint. If Moncada can be Rickey Henderson Light in the lead off spot for the Sox, we will have something to look forward to in 2018.
Tags: Adam Engel, AL Central, American League Central, Baseball, Charlie Tilson, Chicago White Sox, Leury Garcia, Major League Baseball, MLB, moncada, Rick Hahn, Ryan Cordell, Tim Anderson, White Sox, Yoan Moncada, Yolmer Sanchez