Over the course of the last two seasons as the Chicago White Sox methodically go about rebuilding the franchise from the ground up, one of the great joys has been the unexpected success of previously written off players.
Avisail Garcia, Matt Davidson, Nicky Delmonico and Daniel Palka all fit the bill to one extent or another, with Palka looking like the latest to take an opportunity provided purely by necessity and parlay it into a decent statistical season that may help kickstart his career.
However, with the White Sox outfield picture beginning to crowd as top prospects rise through the farm system, is there any chance that Palka is more than a stopgap solution for this summer?
We know that Palka is never going to play even average defense in a corner outfield role and that he’s going to swing and miss in large numbers. But the power he’s displayed since injuries earned him an opportunity in the Major Leagues can’t be ignored.
Palka has 16 home runs and 30 total extra-base hits in 264 plate appearances this year and as a left-handed hitter his ISO is at .280 against right-handed pitching. The problem is, he has shown little plate discipline and is currently walking on just 6.1 percent of his trips to the batter’s box.
To make matter even worse, he’s swinging at pitches out of the strike zone nearly 20 percent more frequently than the average Major Leaguer and making contact on pitches out of the zone nearly 25 percent less frequently than average. Looking at Palka’s exceptional power (only Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge and Joey Gallo have recorded more exit velocities of 115 MPH or more this year), this all screams for a refined hitting approach.
Of course, it’s unlikely you’re going to see any major changes in the middle of this season. The White Sox need that power right now to stay afloat so making an adjustment on the fly isn’t an option.
However, there is some data to suggest that Palka could follow in the footsteps of Davidson and make an offseason tweak to draw more walks and create a more appealing offensive profile. In 2,416 career minor league plate appearances, Palka’s actually drew walks 10.1 percent of the time. That number swells to 10.6 percent during the first three years of his career in the Arizona Diamondbacks system.
If Palka can push his Major League walk rate back up to a level commensurate with what he was as a minor-league player, it changes his profile significantly. Add the 10 additional walks that would translate to this season and suddenly his OPS rises from .784 to .822. That’s without trying to account for what more favorable hitting counts and fewer swings at pitches out of the zone does to his power numbers.
By the time Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Blake Rutherford and the four or five other potential Major League outfielders in the farm system are ready, Palka’s defense and the naturally low contact rate — and the fact that he’s already 26 — will probably phase him out of the organization’s plans. But that doesn’t mean he can’t continue to earn playing time in the interim and create value to earn himself a job somewhere else.
Because despite Palka’s liabilities, there’s a market for a left-handed bat you can stick in the corner outfield with jaw-dropping, fan-riling power. If it so happens that the White Sox can both use Palka as a bridge to their future and get a mid-level prospect for him somewhere down the road, you have to suppose that’s a win-win.