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May the best kind of spring surprise

White Sox third-generation player earns roster spot with stellar camp
MLB.com @philgrogers

Sometimes baseball is about the lineage. It's also about surprises.

One of the best things about baseball this time of the year is the development that nobody saw coming. No matter how much we project, we analyze, we micromanage, there are some people you just can't keep down. The human element is there.

Sometimes baseball is about the lineage. It's also about surprises.

One of the best things about baseball this time of the year is the development that nobody saw coming. No matter how much we project, we analyze, we micromanage, there are some people you just can't keep down. The human element is there.

Jacob May is that kind of player, and it appears he's taking over the spot that the White Sox opened when they traded Adam Eaton to the Nationals for Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Victor Diaz.

May brings a familiar baseball name. His grandfather is Lee May, who was born in Birmingham, Ala., when Bear Bryant's Crimson Tide was riding a quarterback high that included Joe Namath and Ken Stabler. Lee May turned down a scholarship to play fullback for Nebraska because it was baseball that he and his brother, Carlos, loved most.

Between them, they'd spend 28 years in the Major Leagues; Lee mostly with the Reds and Orioles, and Carlos playing alongside guys like Bill Melton, Jerry Hairston and Walt "No Neck'' Williams with the White Sox.

Tweet from @whitesox: .@Jacob_May1 chats with media at #SoxSpringTraining: pic.twitter.com/1ZlbeGb040

Lee May Jr. followed in the footsteps of his father. He was such a standout outfielder at his Cincinnati high school that the Mets selected him in the first round of the 1986 Draft. May will be the hitting coach for the Portland Sea Dogs this season, working with Boston's Double-A hitters.

But you'll have to forgive Coach May if he's a little distracted Monday. His son, Jacob, is going to be making his Major League debut for the White Sox against the Tigers. He could even be leading off, in addition to playing center field, serving as the first hitter whom Justin Verlander faces.

Carlos May sent his nephew Jacob a text Tuesday morning.

"I'm excited for you,'' he said. "Get used to the cold.''

May day: Rookie wins center-field job

May's ascension became possible after a deal Monday night sent 29-year-old Peter Bourjos to the Rays for cash consideration. The Sox didn't lessen the impression when their lineup for Tuesday's game against the Royals listed May as the center fielder and leadoff man.

Video: CWS@SEA: May drives in Sanchez with triple to center

With Charlie Tilson cursed by injuries -- first the torn hamstring suffered in his Major League debut last August and now the stress fracture that has put his right foot in a walking boot for most of Spring Training -- it appeared Bourjos was in line to be a regular. But May quietly kept hitting, raising his batting average to .339, and presenting himself as an intriguing option for a rebuilding team.

One of the reasons that the White Sox decided to take a more patient approach is that they haven't produced their share of impact position players through the Draft or international signings over the last decade. But May is homegrown all the way, a third-round pick in 2013 from Coastal Carolina.

May is more of a ballplayer than a showcase specimen, a 5-foot-10 switch-hitter with speed and a passion for the game. He didn't blink when the White Sox suggested he should go to Australia during his first summer as a pro. May packed his bags and let Australian-born former Major Leaguer Trent Oeltjen show him the ropes, playing alongside Brewers outfielder Keon Broxton on the Sydney Blue Sox.

May represented Team USA throughout Asia in the Premier 12 tournament in 2015. He played center field and led off for Willie Randolph's team, which lost to Korea in the finals at the Tokyo Dome, finishing an 8-3-2 run against international competition. But May remained largely unnoticed, until now.

I asked White Sox vice president and general manager Rick Hahn immediately after the Eaton trade if it was easier to make the deal because the club had top-of-the-order outfielders in their system in May and Adam Engel. He barely took the bait, saying in essence that he had to deal Eaton because the return was so high, whether or not the pieces were in place to replace him.

Video: CWS@LAD: May comes through with epic diving catch

May follows shortstop Tim Anderson, the 2013 first-round pick, to give the Sox two homegrown players in the lineup as they wait for 2016 first-rounder Zack Collins, Trey Michalczewski and Micker Adolfo to finish the climb to Chicago.

It's going to be fascinating to see what May can do with the chance he's earned. His lack of size has always caused scouts to question him, and that's not going to stop now. May is rated at No. 26 among White Sox prospects by MLBPipeline, and one of the reasons he's not ranked higher is that his plate discipline declined as he advanced through the Minors.

May has a .332 career on-base percentage, and you know Major League pitchers will find a way to exploit his aggressiveness. Look no further than Anderson. He hit .283 as a rookie but had only a .306 OBP, with only 13 walks in 431 plate appearances.

Bourjos was a 5.1 WAR guy for the 2011 Angels, before Mike Trout emerged as arguably the game's best player. But Bourjos represented only a half-measure for the White Sox, a placeholder they could possibly trade at midseason, if all went well.

May is a homegrown guy with a chance to stick around, and for a rebuilding team -- heck, any team -- those are the best kind of guys.

Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com.

Chicago White Sox, Jacob May