An injury to Eloy Jimenez at the end of spring training put the White Sox in a position where they had to put together the puzzle of a team looking for a championship. How will they fill the void in the middle of the lineup, and how will they juggle playing time in left field and the DH position?

After ten days into the season, things may be starting to look better. On social media, darling Yermin Mercedes took the bullpen by the horns: 536/.594/.857 in 32 PA to open the season. By doing so, Mercedes is claiming the DH position until he proves he can’t keep it.

The rise of Mercedes has raised a number of questions about how this list will be compiled in the near future. Many think Plan A was for a better prospect, Andrew Vaughn was a full-time DH while he got used to pitching in the big leagues.

Jimenez’s injury, however, forced the team to change gears and try to use their top prospect in left field. He finally got his chance in the premier league, and Mercedes plans to stay in the premier league. Defensive duties alone can’t keep him out of the DH position. So manipulating these figures proved challenging at first, with the only real certainty being the presence of Mercedes in the lineup.

What happens in left field?

Yermin currently has a hole that will be filled at the DH position. This is good news, as this location has been a relative black hole at 35th and Shields Street for several years. For now, left field remains the biggest question mark on the list. Tony La Russa has shown no willingness to give Vaughn daily playing time, as he has only been used in five of the team’s nine games so far. In fact, La Russa made no guarantees about Vaughn’s position on the team:

La Russa said Vaughn is not yet an everyday core player like TA, Abreu, Moncada, etc. He said he noticed that Vaughn went too far at times, he wanted to give him a break. He added that AB Vaughn has looked good the last few days, he would like to hit today and start Saturday.

– Vinnie Duber (@VinnieDuber) April 8, 2021

If Andrew Vaughn can’t get daily PAs instead of Billy Hamilton and Nick Williams, I don’t know what we’re doing here. The problem will soon get worse as Adam Engel returns from a hamstring injury he suffered in spring training. We all know Engel is a plus defender and has shown marked improvement at the plate in the 2019 season, which can be attributed to his memory. However, we have seen time and time again that Angel can become overwhelmed by playing every day. Engel is really best suited for a late-inning defensive role as a replacement and a platoon starter against LHPs.

I think (without having evidence for my theory) that Engel, upon his return, will be most active in left field because of his defensive performance. If that is indeed the case, and it probably doesn’t matter if he doesn’t step down on a regular basis, I really don’t see a destination for Andrew Vaughn on the active roster. Well, I was one of those who felt the White Sox should have isolated their lineup with another option to start the year as DH instead of Vaughn. They chose not to, but letting him sit on the bench instead of giving him regular PAs is negligent at this point.

If Tony La Russa thinks Andrew Vaughn shouldn’t be on the line every day, fine. Send him to another location until the minor league season starts in a few weeks. When the minor league finally resumes, Vaughn should get the much-needed playing practice in a major league pitching matchup that he didn’t get in 2020 due to the pandemic. I’ve always thought it was a big risk to ask Vaughn to come to Major League Baseball in 2021, and I say that as someone who has a lot of confidence in what he will eventually become because of his hit tool. Forcing Andrew Vaughn to line up every day in Chicago and having him work the corner outfield position is not a bad thing.

Simply put, the organization is doing Andrew Vaughn a disservice in terms of development by not letting him play every day. We all know that Tony La Russa is the most powerful man in the organization, next to Jerry Reinsdorf. So if he doesn’t want to let Vaughn play every day, they should put him in a place where he can, so his development isn’t stunted.

It’s not fair to Andrew Vaughn to be in this position, and in some ways it could help the White Sox in 2021. So far, Vaughn seems a little overwhelmed, but that’s to be expected from a guy who has never been in the batter’s box in Winston-Salem. I’m convinced this kid will become a very good hitter in the big leagues, but he needs the chance to mature and become that end product. He can’t do that if he’s not in the batting cage every day.

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Way forward

The development and emergence of Yermin Mercedes is a very welcome development for the White Sox. If he continues to wreak havoc, though probably not at this level, the White Sox have a better chance of success this season. Another middle-of-the-order hitter will help the team overcome the long-term loss of Eloy Jimenez, who in all likelihood will not be a normal Eloy Jimenez again when he returns in 2021.

In terms of player development, this team needs to figure out what to do with Andrew Vaughn. To me, there are really only two options: either let him play left field every day in the 35/strikeout corner, or take him off the active roster so he can do it at another level.

This team has too much money invested in their future to let their development go to waste because they have a manager who refuses to let him play every day. The White Sox will have to juggle from here on out due to the complexity of their lineup. Let us hope that they do so effectively for all concerned.

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