RF? DH? Sheets training for bigger role in '22

November 17th, 2021

CHICAGO -- doesn’t need to work in the White Sox front office to understand general manager Rick Hahn will be looking at right field, second base and pitching as points of offseason upgrades for the 2021 American League Central champs.

Barring a true emergency, Sheets won’t figure into the mound equation. And at 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, the left-handed-throwing 25-year-old won’t see any time at second. That fairly obvious scenario leaves right field open for Sheets, and playing right field on a regular basis is a job he believes his powerful left-handed bat can handle as part of the 2022 squad.

“I do,” Sheets told MLB.com during a recent interview. “I’m going to get a bunch of reps this offseason to try to get as well prepared as possible. The nice thing is, in Spring Training I feel like I’ll be able to get a lot of reps I didn’t get last year.

“I’m going to do all I can do, which is what I can control. I’m going to be in the best shape possible to come into Spring Training and prove I can play out there and contribute to this team. I feel confident that I can be out there and that I can help this team win games.”

Sheets is a walking illustration of the phrase, “What a difference a year makes.” It was a little more than a year ago when Sheets was completing instructional league action at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Ariz. The first baseman/designated hitter was learning to play right field after not being invited to the in-season alternate training facility in Schaumburg, Ill., during the ’20 campaign.

Instead of getting angry over the snub, Sheets simply got better. He finished the 2021 regular season with 11 home runs, eight doubles, 34 RBIs and an .830 OPS over 54 games and 179 plate appearances, and then went 4-for-12 in the Division Series loss to Houston, with a solo homer in Game 4.

Manager Tony La Russa took notice of Sheets early on in Spring Training, which was the sort of support he appreciated and fed off of at that point.

“That was the best thing for me was having a new manager come in, someone that has a fresh eye,” Sheets said. “I felt like I was a different player. I wanted to be viewed as a different player. I thought having Tony coming in and not knowing about anything in my past, not knowing I was just a first baseman before, it felt like a fresh start.”

The second-round pick from the 2017 Draft did not surprise anyone in the organization with his strong will to prove he belonged.

“He obviously has a tremendous makeup. [He’s] a hard worker and someone who would use a perhaps stagnation in their career as a way to look at another way to get better, or ways to improve and work at it,” Hahn said. “We’re glad he took that step forward, and again, [we] think bright days are ahead for Gavin.”

If the White Sox don’t add a right fielder, Sheets, fellow rookie Andrew Vaughn and veteran Adam Engel could make sense there next season, and Sheets and Vaughn could also see time at designated hitter. Sheets finished 2-for-18 against left-handed pitching in ’21, but he doesn’t view those numbers as indicative of his future production.

“At the end of the season, I had started to discuss with Tony that I felt like facing lefties for me actually got me in a really good spot to hit for righties as well,” Sheets said. “I just felt that it helped me stay on the ball a little bit longer. There were a lot of benefits from it.”

Offseason hitting has already begun for Sheets at PerformFit Sports Experience in Cockeysville, Md., where he also works with the Giants’ LaMonte Wade Jr. There was no reason for down time for Sheets; he had a great feel offensively after adjusting his mechanics, which teammate Yasmani Grandal suggested before the season’s final week.

This change produced a 7-for-15 showing with two homers and eight RBIs in Sheets’ last five regular-season games and an even greater desire to build off this feeling as soon as possible.

“Usually you get into the offseason and you are like, ‘Man, I don’t want to even think about baseball,’” Sheets said. “I’m already looking forward to next year and competing for an Opening Day roster spot, and trying to get back to the playoffs and do it all over again.

“Once you get the taste of it, it’s something you want every year. It’s an awesome feeling, and [there’s] a lot of excitement going forward.”