White Sox' Adam Engel on rehab assignment as outfield boost nears

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Engel starts rehab assignment, boost for Sox outfield nears originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

The Chicago White Sox are about to get a major reinforcement in their banged-up outfield.

Adam Engel, who's been on the shelf since the middle of spring training with a strained hamstring, is heading out on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Charlotte. He will begin playing Tuesday.

"Just really excited to get back out there," Engel said Sunday. "I was joking around today, I wasn’t envisioning my first game of the year to be in Norfolk, Virginia, but that’s what it is so I’m going to go out there and get ready to come back."

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Engel and the White Sox weren't expecting his absence to last this long, but a setback revealed he had a complete separation of a muscle and tendon, according to Engel, forcing a lengthy delay in his return to the club.

In the meantime, he's become of immense need, with both starting left fielder Eloy Jiménez and starting center fielder Luis Robert suffering their own significant injuries that have knocked them out for months. Engel, who was slated to be the White Sox fourth outfielder before the season began, figures to be leaned on heavily to sub in for the injured middle-of-the-order bats.

"The outfield is what I felt like going into the season was going to be one of this team's strengths and a really steady part of the production aspect of this club, not only from the defensive standpoint, but obviously offensively. Having lost three outfielders, essentially, that’s obviously tough," Engel said. "It’s been tough to sit by and not be able to do my job. And I think no matter who you are or what your job is, if you’re on the sideline wishing you can get back in there, it’s always hard."

With Engel unable to fill in to this point, Tony La Russa has utilized a by-committee approach to those two positions, though rookie Andrew Vaughn has soaked up the majority of the playing time in left, particularly as his bat has heated up. Others such as Leury García, Billy Hamilton and even infielders like Jake Lamb and Danny Mendick have made frequent starts, something they obviously weren't expected to do back in spring training.

Engel had a nice offensive season in 2020, his bat beginning to catch up to the excellent work he's done with his glove throughout his time in the major leagues. He hit .295 with a .333 on-base percentage, slugging north of .500 with an .837 OPS against right-handed pitching.

Despite a tough first two games of their current three-game set in New York, the White Sox have been one of baseball's most productive offensive clubs through the first two months of the season. Still, they came into Sunday's game with an OPS .100 points lower against righties than it is against lefties. Engel's return to the lineup could help grow that number.

"It'd be a boost in every direction, because No. 1, he's a really good player, going to help us win offensively and defensively. He's also one of the strong chemistry guys, family guys on this team," La Russa said. "There's a lot of games that we've played where he's been out rehabbing, and when he's around, like he has been, it's better. It's going to be a big day the day he comes back.

"It's real clear the priority: The day he gets back, we need to keep him back."

While not as impactful as the potential late-season returns of Jiménez and Robert, getting Engel back is huge for a White Sox team that's kept its World Series dreams afloat amid those critical outfield injuries. Though he certainly has the ability to play all three outfield spots and will likely be used in all three, he will mostly be used to stabilize center field with Robert sidelined and Vaughn doing a consistently good job in left.

La Russa added that Engel will be watched closely to make sure he remains healthy while still playing a big role for the team.

"I think center field would be the priority. I just think that's the second priority," the South Side skipper said. "The first priority is, when he comes back, what's his regimen for activity? Watch him close. ... You're going to have to be careful, lean on him about being honest about how he feels. I'm sure he doesn't want to get hurt again.

"How often he plays, we're going to watch it carefully day to day."

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