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What right field looks like for White Sox after trades, minor league signings

Vinnie Duber Avatar
February 6, 2024
Dominic Fletcher

So is this Dominic Fletcher’s job to lose or what?

Right field looks awfully different than it did a week ago for the White Sox, who pulled off a pair of weekend trades to add to their contingent in the corner-outfield spot.

Certainly something like this was expected, as Chris Getz had been forecasting for months his preference to upgrade the position defensively. Gavin Sheets, a natural first baseman, had been forced there in recent years to less than stellar defensive results. Meanwhile, Oscar Colás, who was touted as a strong defensive presence a year ago, fell flat in that department and others during a pair of big league stints in 2023, and he’s expected to at least begin the 2024 campaign at Triple-A Charlotte ironing out numerous issues.

And so the trades.

Getz sent young pitching prospect Cristian Mena to the Diamondbacks in exchange for the aforementioned Fletcher, who put up good offensive numbers in a small stay with the major league team last season but had no path to regular playing time given the reigning NL champs’ crowded outfield. Fletcher’s .301 batting average and .350 on-base percentage in 28 games might have had more than a little to do with good luck, but he had a similar average (.291) and a much bigger on-base percentage (.399) while hitting for more power in 66 games at the Triple-A level.

But more important to the White Sox, perhaps, than that offensive success — and any question of how repeatable it might be — is the type of player that Fletcher is. Fans are already critiquing his diminutive 5-foot-6 height, but he’s described as the kind of player Getz and his front office have brought in all winter: someone with a positive defensive reputation who can be depended on to do the little things and play a style of baseball that the team wants to see.

“What stood out for Dominic Fletcher?” Getz said. “Left-handed hitting outfielder. And he can defend. He’s got both offensive and defensive potential, and I say potential but he’s performed and he’s gone out and done that. High makeup kid, high energy, plays the game the right way. He can base-run, he can defend, he makes good decisions on a baseball field, got a really solid reputation.”

Fletcher comes from a Diamondbacks team that excelled at playing a fast, aggressive style last year, taking advantage of the new rules to best their division-dominating rivals from Los Angeles in the postseason and almost win the World Series. It’s a style the White Sox are talking about attempting to replicate, and Fletcher joins newcomers like Nicky Lopez and Paul DeJong as guys who could be able to help with that. Throw new catcher Martín Maldonado in with that crew, and you see Getz’s emphasis on team-wide defensive improvement come to life.

”Love Dom,” said Lopez, who played with Fletcher in last year’s World Baseball Classic, during a Monday interview on the CHGO White Sox Podcast. “Gritty player, a guy who gets after it, will run through a wall. But also, he’s got some pop, a sweet-swinging lefty. Can run. He’s a ballplayer. You want to build a team of ballplayers, and then you trickle in a few of those freaks who do what they do, like Luis Robert.

”It’s one of these things, you need these players who can go and get a ball deep in the gap, not afraid to run into a wall for a ball, but also does the little things right. He’ll fit in the clubhouse very well.”

But is Fletcher going to man the position for 150 games? Is he truly an everyday guy? Getz wouldn’t commit to crowning a starter in right field when he spoke following Saturday’s trades, and a look at Fletcher’s splits could point to the need for a platoon.

In that small number of games at the big league level, Fletcher hit right-handed pitching at a .369 clip while struggling to the tune of a .143 average against left-handers. His OPS against righties (.946) was dramatically different from the mark he posted against lefties (.422). At the minor league level, things weren’t quite as eye-popping, but the differences remain pronounced: He hit .325 against righties and .217 against lefties, with a .967 OPS vs. right-handers and a .639 OPS vs. left-handers.

The White Sox will undoubtedly take the spring to figure out whether Fletcher needs assistance in some sort of right-field platoon. But who could provide that assistance?

Saturday’s other swap saw closer Gregory Santos sent to the Mariners in exchange for a pair of players and a draft pick, one of the returning pieces being outfield prospect Zach DeLoach. The 25-year-old doesn’t have any big league experience, but he hit well at the Triple-A level last season, slashing .286/.387/.481 with 23 homers, 30 doubles and 83 walks, scoring 90 runs and driving in 88 more in 138 games. That included a .905 OPS against left-handed pitching, which could make him an ideal candidate for the other half of a platoon with Fletcher, depending on what the White Sox see from him in the spring.

But perhaps an even more enticing option could be veteran Kevin Pillar, who the White Sox are bringing to camp on a minor league deal. Pillar brings experience from parts of 11 major league seasons to go along with a right-handed bat (both Fletcher and DeLoach bat from the left side) and a strong defensive reputation.

Like many of the other newcomers to the White Sox’ position-player group, Pillar isn’t going to instantly win fans over with what they can find on his Baseball-Reference page. He’s been a below-average hitter over the last five seasons, with an on-base percentage well south of .300 and more than five times as many strikeouts as walks. But he could be exactly the type of player the White Sox have spent the offseason infusing into the organization.

“That dude’s a fireball,” said Lopez, who was teammates with Pillar on last year’s Braves team. “Something that he brings — other than veteran leadership, a guy who has been there 10 years — he’s the first guy who’s going to be off the bench if both teams come together. He’s going to be the first one, right in the middle of it.

”Always backing his teammates up. Always there for knowledge. And also always there to run into a wall, wear a ball off the face, off the arm to get to first base. He’s a pro’s pro, he’s as good as it gets.”

While it’s still unknown how playing time will shake out at the position, it would seem Sheets and Colás are on the outside looking in when it comes to the bulk of the action, given the team’s thoughts on Colás’ need for more minor league seasoning and its desire to see better defense in right field. Getz, though, does seem to be done adding at the position, and we can guess that whoever grabs the everyday job or makes up a platoon will come from this group.

“I feel pretty good about where we are at,” Getz said. “With that being said, if there’s an opportunity to upgrade the roster, we are going to do that. Obviously, with both (Fletcher and DeLoach) being left-handed, perhaps there’s an opportunity to find a right-handed hitting outfielder to pair with them or throw into that mix. We are open-minded there.

“We’ll take a look at that in spring training with all of these options and move forward with what we feel is the best for our major league club to begin the year.”

Again, that’s not going to do much to excite fans, who are seeing more desirable offensive alternatives still sitting on the free-agent market. But as the White Sox have spent the winter significantly downsizing their payroll and looking for grindy types to help establish a new organizational identity, low-cost additions like Fletcher and even Pillar — though the former would figure to have a much firmer footing than the latter when it comes to winning a roster spot — make sense.

Whether it will help them score many runs or win many games, of course, remains to be seen.

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