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PHOENIX – The Yerminator Era didn’t last too long on the South Side.
After Yermín Mercedes won over tons of fans with a red-hot start to the 2021 season – he hit a jaw-dropping .415 in April – the production of the man who launched a burger at Fabulous Freddies on 31st Street fell off a cliff. He hit .196 in May and June and didn’t play a major league game after June 30.
But despite a short-lived and all-around confusing retirement announced on social media, he hasn’t gone anywhere. He’s still on the 40-man roster and in White Sox camp this spring looking to swing his way back into the big leagues.
“He can hit,” Tony La Russa said.
Certainly Mercedes showed an ability to do just that in the first month of last season. The enduring image for fans will likely be the home run he hit off fellow position player Willians Astudillo in Minnesota, a blast on a 3-0 pitch in a blowout that had La Russa chiding Mercedes postgame for a lack of sportsmanship and commentators everywhere apoplectic for a seeming invocation of baseball’s maddening unwritten rules.
There was a little more nuance to things than that, and La Russa remains flabbergasted that some folks still haven’t accepted what he saw as a common-sense reaction on his part. Whether you agree or not, it’s probably a good idea for that chapter to end.
But what about Mercedes’ White Sox chapter? Some pretty obvious realities make his chances of returning to the major league roster appear slim.
The White Sox didn’t call on him after the end of June last year, despite an OPS in the minors .050 points higher than what he posted in the majors and 11 home runs in fewer than 60 games with Triple-A Charlotte. Even while key players continued to rehab from and go down with injuries, Mercedes stayed away.
Then there’s the question of what position he would play. He was almost exclusively a designated hitter last year, and while there’s still plenty to figure out about how the White Sox will fill that position in 2022, there are more attractive options to soak up the playing time there. La Russa sees a host of names taking the at-bats in the DH spot, Andrew Vaughn and Gavin Sheets included, even while they remain big parts of the mix in right field. The South Side skipper is intent on using that spot, too, as a way to keep bats like Yasmani Grandal’s in the lineup on days when he’s not behind the plate, such was the case in the team spring game Saturday.
Mercedes is no longer catching, and while he didn’t do that much in the majors, it’s limited his opportunities moving forward. He’s playing mostly left field this spring in an effort to increase his versatility and better his chances of getting another shot.
“I think he’s an athlete,” La Russa said. “Right now, left is where he’s most comfortable. He’s athletic enough to play the corners. He can hit.
“Ruling out the catching thing makes it harder. … He’s in a tough spot here. Just go out there and work because there’s a chance something will break for him.”
Again, the odds seem to be well out of Mercedes’ favor when it comes to breaking camp with the big league team. But here’s your update on a guy White Sox fans can’t seem to forget.
It’s The Yoelqui Céspedes Show!
No, there’s still little chance that one of the White Sox’ more talked about prospects will start the season as the big league team’s right fielder. But man, is Céspedes putting on a show this spring.
The top player in last year’s international free-agent class, he joined the White Sox’ organization billed as a five-tool talent, and he’s shown off a few of those tools in the early days of the Cactus League schedule. He hit home runs in each of his first two spring games, including an impressive blast in the spring opener Thursday. Sunday against the Rockies, he impressed with his arm, throwing out a base runner at third base from center field.
A day earlier, after Home Run No. 2, Céspedes was all smiles talking about his power surge, but as time goes on, more aspects of his game are on display.
“I feel so happy because I never hoped I could play this year in (major league) spring training,” he said Saturday. “My mind was on the minor leagues, and then I’m playing with the big leaguers. Right now, I feel so good.”
Céspedes might be surprised by his non-roster invite to big league camp and his prominent usage late in games that feature plenty of the White Sox’ everyday big leaguers, but he’s been open about his goal to reach the South Side in 2022.
It’ll take this kind of performance when the games start counting in the minor leagues. Though farm chief Chris Getz seemed to indicate a return to Double-A Birmingham, where Céspedes played the final 29 games of his 2021 season before struggling in the Arizona Fall League, perhaps Céspedes can change hearts and minds with this spring performance.
Walks = pain for Liam Hendriks
The White Sox’ closer took a batted ball off his leg in Sunday’s spring tilt.
When the trainer came out for a visit, Hendriks told him to “piss off.”
It was far from the most painful thing about his outing, though, in his mind. That would be the three walks he issued in a 32-pitch third inning. Hendriks didn’t give up any runs, but even in this early stage of the spring, he was unhappy with how he pitched, citing a “mentality thing” that he slipped into that’s bedeviled him in the past, from time to time.
“You go out there with every intention to be successful, even if it’s a practice game or a spring training game,” Hendriks said. “Instead of going out there with the mentality of, ‘Here, hit this,’ it’s, ‘OK, I need to get it down so they swing and miss.’ It’s not me beating them, it’s I’m kind of tricking them. It’s less about what I’m doing and more about what they’re missing, rather than I need to go out there with the mentality of, ‘They’re not going to touch it anyway, so just throw it.’”
As White Sox fans learned during Hendriks’ dominant first year on the South Side, when he does that, he’s practically unhittable. The closer chalked his Sunday woes up, in part, to it being his second spring outing, that he’s pitching in these early games to get a feeling for the strike zone.
It’s safe to assume that Hendriks will have things ironed out by the end of the spring and the start of the regular season, in time to pitch against new division rival Carlos Correa, who used to see Hendriks quite a bit when the two were rivals in the AL West.
“I just think he can’t get away from me,” Hendriks joked about the Twins’ new blockbuster addition. “I just think he wants to face me a bunch.”
Mustache – scratch that – baldness update
In a change of pace, rather than talking about facial hair, let’s talk about the lack of hair.
Jake Burger got some laughs on Twitter by revealing the effects the White Sox’ spring training hats are having on his clean-shaven dome.
Oof. The spring hats have mesh backs, for some reason, perhaps comfort and/or temperature related. But it allows the sun to do its work.
Burger said that he’s got what amounts to a full-time job applying sunscreen once an hour – and that still didn’t work.
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