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White Sox CF job up for grabs this spring

Engel has edge with defense, but offensive numbers are factor
MLB.com @scottmerkin

CHICAGO -- Adam Engel jumps up as the clear-cut center-field favorite for the 2018 White Sox if that decision was based primarily on defense.

This assessment means no disrespect to Leury Garcia or Charlie Tilson, the other prime center-field candidates. It's more of a testament to Engel's Gold Glove-caliber defense over 97 games in '17, when he recorded 16 outs above average according to Statcast™, which left him tied for third in all of baseball with Mookie Betts.

CHICAGO -- Adam Engel jumps up as the clear-cut center-field favorite for the 2018 White Sox if that decision was based primarily on defense.

This assessment means no disrespect to Leury Garcia or Charlie Tilson, the other prime center-field candidates. It's more of a testament to Engel's Gold Glove-caliber defense over 97 games in '17, when he recorded 16 outs above average according to Statcast™, which left him tied for third in all of baseball with Mookie Betts.

Spring Training information

But Engel will have to hit. He doesn't have to hit .300 or produce an on-base percentage in the .370 or .380 range, but Engel has to do better than his .166 average, .517 OPS and 117 strikeouts over 336 plate appearances during his rookie campaign. It's a fact which Engel is well aware of.

"I've just been trying to capitalize on this offseason," Engel said. "I can make changes [that are] tough to make during the season.

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"Again, I felt like last year was valuable to me in a standpoint in getting the reps and understanding what it was going to take to have success on the offensive side. I'm then taking that kind of learning curve into the offseason and trying to maximize what I got as far as time and all that to really come in strong in Spring Training and trying to add even more value to what I do."

According to Statcast™, of the 64 players last season who spent at least 2,500 pitches in center, Engel's average starting distance of 305 feet from home was deeper than only Billy Hamilton (304 feet). The MLB average was 318 feet.

Engel's shallow positioning takes away hits coming off of pitchers' pitches, as Engel stated, for a staff ranking 28th in strikeouts last season at a total of 1,193. Of course, bigger White Sox strikeout totals are on the horizon via Michael Kopech, Alec Hansen, Dane Dunning, Dylan Cease and Zack Burdi, to name a few, but none of this group will break camp with the team.

Tilson, 25, immediately emerged as the center fielder of the future when he was acquired in a trade with the Cardinals for Zach Duke in 2016. The left-handed hitter had speed and the makings of a solid overall offensive player, but Tilson didn't make it through his one Major League game against the Tigers at Comerica Park before tearing his left hamstring while chasing a Miguel Cabrera fly ball.

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That game, on Aug. 2, 2016, marked the last Major League or Minor League contest for Tilson, who lost the '17 season with right foot and right ankle injuries. He will get a chance during Spring Training, but he figures to need at-bats in the Minors to make up for lost time.

Garcia, who turns 27 during Spring Training, gives the White Sox offensive pop from both sides of the plate. He also provides a leadoff presence, as would Tilson, and had put together a strong '17 campaign before a sprained right thumb shut him down for September. Garcia has value in his versatility and actually profiles well in left field when Nicky Delmonico moves to designated hitter.

Video: Merkin on Jimenez, Robert headlining youth at camp

Luis Robert, ranked as the game's No. 28 prospect by MLB Pipeline, looks to be the team's center fielder of the future. He will be in big league camp, but for now, that spot belongs to Engel, Tilson or Garcia.

Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Read his blog, Merk's Works, follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin, on Facebook and listen to his podcast.

Chicago White Sox, Adam Engel, Leury Garcia, Luis Robert, Charlie Tilson