The Chicago White Sox' season ended in disappointment, much earlier than hoped.
But the team accomplished plenty during the 2021 campaign, winning the American League Central crown and playing playoff baseball on the South Side for the first time in 13 years. After years of rebuilding, there was indeed progress toward achieving the franchise's ultimate goal of winning a World Series championship.
At the same time, the expectations of reaching that goal this year were realistic back in the spring, and the White Sox fell well short. A sour AL Division Series loss to the Houston Astros resulted in the same number of postseason wins as the White Sox had a year earlier, before a managerial change and roster upgrades.
So how should we judge these South Siders?
If we're just handing out grades for those four games in October, not many would receive a passing mark. But a baseball season is not four games long, and though the group disappointment was huge following a quick playoff exit, most of the players excelled during the regular season, setting up reason to believe that the White Sox can improve in 2022 and move closer to a championship.
Here's a player-by-player review of the 2021 campaign, continuing with outfielders.
Luis Robert: A
Robert comes close to forcing an A+, a grade my teachers always insisted had no business being on the grading scale. He missed over half of the season with a torn hip flexor, but when he returned, he didn’t skip a beat at the plate or in the field.
Robert led White Sox with at least 100 regular season plate appearances in batting average (.338) and slugging percentage (.567). Then, in the postseason, he went 7-for-14, with at least one hit in every game.
Eloy Jiménez: B-
Jiménez, too, missed significant time due to injury. But he didn’t find his rhythm at the plate as quickly as Robert. He also was out for longer, finally making his season debut in late July.
Back in spring training, when Jiménez ruptured his pectoral tendon on an ill-advised attempt to rob a spring training homer, he sparked calls for him to move to DH permanently. But with his regular season play, Jiménez claimed the everyday spot in left field.
Adam Engel: B-
Engel’s season was defined by injury misfortune. He missed the first two months of the season with a hamstring injury. Then, he landed on the IL for over a month with shoulder inflammation and a groin ailment.
Engel played just 39 games, posting a .252 batting average and career-best .496 slugging percentage.
Andrew Vaughn: B+
In a vacuum, Vaughn’s 2021 slash line isn’t that impressive: .235/.309/.396. But considering he hadn’t played above Single-A when the White Sox called the rookie in to fill holes in the outfield, his first MLB season was quite the success story.
Vaughn, who the White Sox selected No. 3 overall in the 2019 MLB Draft, figures to be an important part of the White Sox’ future after a meteoric rise to the big leagues.
Gavin Sheets: A-
Sheets at least had a couple more years to develop in the minors, compared to Vaughn, but the lefty was another young player who provided the White Sox with a boost.
Sheets really came into his own late in the year, hitting home runs in back-to-back multi-hit games in September, forcing manager Tony La Russa to give him extra at-bats as the year came to a close.
Billy Hamilton: B
Hamilton’s speed – making him a valuable baserunner and defensive replacement – was set to compliment the White Sox roster before it saw a rash of outfielder injuries. But he ended up stepping in to carry a heavier load than expected when the White Sox signed him in March. And he delivered, even though he, too, spent time on the IL.
Brian Goodwin: B
Goodwin was another White Sox outfielder limited by injury, with back spasms keeping him off the ALDS roster. But he was key to keeping the team afloat while Robert and Jiménez were out, in his first season on the South Side.