Coffee helps Sheets warm up to DH role

March 19th, 2022

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It took Gavin Sheets a little while to figure out a precise approach over the 22 games he played as White Sox designated hitter during the 2021 season.

But eventually the key component came to him: Coffee, and a lot of it.

“I had to get used to it in the beginning,” Sheets told of handling the DH role during a recent interview. “I was getting too involved in breaking down my swing after every at-bat. But then once I realized that coffee was doing the trick for me during the game, it was back and forth between the coffee room and the cage getting ready to go. That was the formula that really worked out for me.

“Some people thought I was crazy. But four cups of coffee a night, I was definitely staying engaged and bouncing around. In the beginning, I was really thinking about too much because I never had DHed that much. I was using iPads, breaking down at-bats, going into the cage, trying to change things.”

Instead of that overthinking, the left-handed hitter went with staying loose and trying to keep his body loose, moving around everywhere and cage work. And let’s not forget the coffee.

“If I was swinging it well and feeling good, I would get about two, three, four [cups], every other inning,” Sheets said with a laugh. “I was rolling through it.

“Guys now make jokes I have to get my coffee in the morning. It was a way to move around, walk around, just stay loose, stay involved in the game, but at the same time, just not thinking too much about at-bats, not getting too ingrained. I was having fun with it.”

Finding that confident approach at DH should serve Sheets well in 2022 within the current configuration of the White Sox roster. The club will use a combination of Andrew Vaughn, Sheets, Leury García and Adam Engel in right field and won’t have one set player at DH.

Manager Tony La Russa used Saturday’s Cactus League lineup as a DH example, where Yasmani Grandal was set to get two at-bats there and then catch against the Rockies on Sunday in Scottsdale, Ariz. It’s a spot for an everyday position player to slide into when needing a half-day off. Neither first baseman José Abreu nor left fielder Eloy Jiménez particularly enjoy DHing, but they would occasionally be in that mix.

Sheets, 25, has played 13 Major League games in right field and 17 overall in the outfield, working diligently to learn the position during the offseason leading into the 2021 season. He feels increasingly more confident in that spot, but understands his role is focused more on the left-handed power side.

“At the end of the day, it’s about bringing that bat to the table,” Sheets said. “That’s what I’m going to do. ... Be ready to play every position and most importantly be ready to hit.

“Just the more I’m out there [in right], the better I feel. Last year was obviously back and forth, getting most of my reps at first and then thrown in the OF. But this year I know my role, and it’s a majority in the outfield and get all my reps out there, and get more and more comfortable.”

Over 179 plate appearances and 54 games in ’21, Sheets slashed .250/.324/.506 with 11 home runs, eight doubles and 34 RBIs. He homered in the deciding Game 4, a 10-1 loss to Houston in the American League Division Series, giving the White Sox a brief lead in the second inning. The second-round pick in the 2017 MLB Draft closed the season strong, finishing 7-for-15 with two homers and eight RBIs, and then he continued hitting immediately after the season concluded at PerformFit Sports Experience in Cockeysville, Md., to not lose that good feel.

His hope is to use that ’21 success as a starting point, building with a little caffeinated assistance toward a World Series title.

“[Last year] was special. Just that whole [playoff] atmosphere, every game,” Sheets said. “Even playing in Houston, you get to feel what it’s like. The home run obviously pushed that out a little bit because of the ending game result.

“I’ll never forget that Sunday night game, the blackout at home. I speak for everybody that’s all we want, get back to there and have that atmosphere. Our job is to find ways to contribute and have a role here.”