Chicago White Sox

White Sox prospect Blake Rutherford likely right fielder of future

The White Sox's Daniel Palka bats during a spring training game against the Padres on Feb. 24 in Peoria, Ariz. Palka is among several candidates to play right field for the Sox this season.
The White Sox's Daniel Palka bats during a spring training game against the Padres on Feb. 24 in Peoria, Ariz. Palka is among several candidates to play right field for the Sox this season.

The White Sox were scheduled to played split-squad Cactus League games Tuesday.

Before rain postponed both games, Adam Engel was the starter in right field against the Royals, and Ryan Cordell was the starter in right against the Mariners.

With the season opening in a little more than two weeks (March 28 at Kansas City), it is safe to say the Sox are unsettled in right field.

For the present, Jon Jay, Daniel Palka, Leury Garcia, Engel, Brandon Guyer and Jose Rondon are candidates to play right for the Sox this season.

Expected to join the Sox’s roster in late April, Eloy Jimenez is likely to play left field, his position in spring training.

Down the road, Blake Rutherford looks the Sox’s starting right fielder.

Acquired from the Yankees in the 2017 trade that sent David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle and Todd Frazier to New York, Rutherford batted .293/.345/.436 with nine triples, seven home runs and 78 RBIs in 115 games with high Single-A Winston-Salem last season.

“I feel like my at-bats were a lot more consistent,” the 21-year-old Rutherford said. “My game was a lot better overall offensively, defensively, baserunning. I was a lot happier just with being able to make changes a little bit faster than years before.”

Rutherford, the Yankees’ first-round draft pick (No. 18 overall) in 2016, figures to spend the bulk of the upcoming season at Double-A Birmingham.

If he makes similar strides, the 6-foot-3, 215-pounder is on track to join the Sox’s roster at some point in 2020.

That leaves a gap in the short term, but Sox manager Rick Renteria has numbers to work with.

“I’ll balance it out with the matchups we could possibly get,” Renteria said.

Avisail Garcia was the Sox’s regular right fielder from 2015 to 2018, but he was nontendered in November and signed a one-year contract with Tampa Bay.

Garcia was limited to 93 games last season while dealing with hamstring and knee injuries. He batted .236 – down from .330 in 2017 – and struck out 102 times in 385 plate appearances.

That opened the door for Palka, who played 43 games in right field.

Although his defensive game was subpar, Palka finished tied for fifth in American League Rookie of the Year voting after batting .240 with 27 home runs and 67 RBIs.

Palka, who is back playing in the Cactus League after missing more than two weeks with a hamstring injury, worked hard on his defense over the winter.

“He’s going to get an opportunity to show what he can do out there,” Sox general manager Rick Hahn said. “Obviously, he hits the ball about as hard as anybody. He was very clutch for us over the course of last season. If there was a knock on him, it was from the defensive standpoint, so the fact that he took his offseason conditioning very seriously and he’s worked very hard to make himself a better outfielder, I believe he’s going to get an opportunity to show us what he’s capable of doing.”

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