Saturday Stew: Have the White Sox figured it out at DH?

The designated hitter position has been one that has given the White Sox a whole lot of nothing in recent years. Last season Edwin Encarnacion slashed .157/.250/.377 with 10 home runs and 19 RBI over the course of 44 games in the truncated 60-game campaign. 10 bombs are nice, but they accounted for 10 of his 25 total hits, meanwhile, he struck out at nearly a 30 percent clip and finished the season with -0.3 fWAR.

2019 saw the White Sox deploy a combination of Yonder Alonso, AJ Reed, Matt Skole, and Zack Collins in the DH spot throughout the season. You have to go back to the Jim Thome days to find legitimate consistent production out of that spot on the Southside of Chicago.

We thought that Andrew Vaughn was going to be the latest in a long line of experiments at that spot, at least to open the season, but the emergence of Yermin Mercedes has changed that for the time being.

Mercedes, 28, made the Opening Day roster as a reserve after Eloy Jimenez and Adam Eaton went down with injuries late in the Cactus League campaign, but Mercedes doesn’t plan on going back to Schaumburg, or the minor leagues.

Through six games, Mercedes is slashing .556/.571/.889 with two home runs, three doubles, seven RBI, and a whopping 304 wRC+. Now, obviously, there’s going to be substantial regression to the mean for Mercedes when the torrid streak he is on right now fizzles out, but just how much has he changed the plans for Tony La Russa and the White Sox?

Photo: Getty Images

I think the number one question here, as it pertains to Mercedes, is — what does Yermin Mercedes look like when he comes down from the high he’s riding right now?

Sure, Mercedes’ BABIP is a whopping .591, and he has only walked once in 28 plate appearances, so he’s probably not likely to challenge for a batting title when all is said and done, but that’s the same thing that people said about Tim Anderson just two years ago. Now, with a batting title (almost two) in tow, Anderson has hushed the pundits and is considered one of the best hitters in baseball.

So, why not Yermin as well?

He puts together professional at-bats almost every time he steps to the dish. While his penance for swinging is probably going to suppress his walk numbers and OBP, he makes plenty of contact. He’s only struck out three times in his first 28 trips to the plate.

“He doesn’t throw at-bats away; he’s so ready to hit,” Tony La Russa said. “He’s showing he’s a good breaking ball hitter, good fastball hitter — he makes adjustments. The thing I’ve come to know, I’ve been told, I think I’ve seen the video, he’s a star in the Dominican (Republic). He rises to the occasion. When you play winter ball, you have to hit off-speed pitches and fastballs, in and out, and up and down. He’s a seasoned rookie. He enjoys it; the fans enjoy him. He’s for real.”

When you compare Mercedes to the designated hitters of recent years, Mercedes seems like the cream of the crop. Hell, he’s already amassed 60 percent of Edwin Encarnacion’s total hits during the 2020 season, so after about a week-and-a-half, he’s already got to be considered an upgrade over Encarnacion.

Our Ian Eskridge has been watched the path of Yermin Mercedes closely for years now, and he believes that there’s no reason that Mercedes can’t be a mainstay in the majors for the White Sox.

“Personally I’ve been asking for Yermin for two years now,” said Eskridge. “The guy has done nothing but hit at every level [the organization has] put him at. He skipped Double-A, and there were zero drop-offs.  He went from Advanced-A to Triple-A and he didn’t skip a beat. In fact, he got better. His eye has improved and he’s started going up the middle/opposite field more with two strikes.

But what about that Andrew Vaughn kid? The organization’s top-prospect and former third overall selection in the 2019 MLB Draft were slated to be the Opening Day DH just a couple weeks ago, and now he seems like a man without a position.

Andrew Vaughn has seen his playing time limited in the first eight games of the season. Whether it be because of the emergence of Yermin Mercedes, his limited defensive profile, or the fact that he really hasn’t raised any eyebrows with the playing time that he has received (.154/.353/.231, 0 HR, 35.3% SO) — Vaughn seems to have fallen out of favor when it comes to everyday playing time.

Photo: Chicago White Sox via Twitter

Tony La Russa decided to start Nick Williams over Vaughn in left field in Thursday’s home opener, and of course, Yermin Mercedes has a stranglehold on the DH at-bats available.

“Right now, he’s not in the core where, where it’s Tim, José (Abreu), Yoán, (Yasmani) Grandal, guys like that, Adam (Eaton), but he’s playing enough,” Tony La Russa said of Vaughn. “It’s not the minor leagues where you’re developing players. The only playing time Andrew’s got is spring training. Now as a part of us putting together our best winning combination, which means there are some times the combination goes against him.

“As long as he’s getting at-bats, this is a really good experience for him. What I think is great about him: The day he doesn’t start, he really works. The responsibility when you come to the big leagues is to win games. And a lot of times it comes together with a young player, you give him a lot of at-bats, he helps you win. But not all the at-bats.”

As of today, Vaughn has 17 plate appearances. While he might be the long-term solution at DH (at least until Jose Abreu comes off of first base in the new couple of years), you just can’t justify sitting Yermin Mercedes at the moment. So, what gives the Sox reason to keep Vaughn with the major league club as opposed to sending him to Schaumburg and playing the service time game with him until Mercedes comes back down to earth?

There’s the fact that they can’t seem to keep anyone in left field healthy this season with Jimenez, Engel, and Billy Hamilton all on the injured list with various ailments. If you ask Vaughn’s BP partner, Tim Anderson, it’s his elite bat that will keep him around Chicago.

“Once he gets going, he’s unstoppable, one of the best hitters around as well at such a young age,” said Anderson “I hit BP with the guy every day. I’ve seen his approach in practice; I’ve seen his approach in spring training and live BP. Once he settles down and has some fun, he’ll be fine. Get him out of his shell and continue to keep pushing and he’s going to come around as well.”

Whether it’s Yermin Mercedes, Andrew Vaughn, or some combination of both sluggers, it seems — at least for now — that the White Sox might have finally figured out the DH position.


Featured Photo: Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images


 

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