The story of Alejandro De Aza‘s emergence as an everyday center fielder went vastly unappreciated in his first two years in the position with the Chicago White Sox.
The former Florida Marlins‘ farmhand came to Chicago as a waiver pickup after the 2009 season. At the time, not much was expected out of the a guy who hit .232 in 67 games throughout the course of two seasons. This was just another guy with major league experience that the club was bringing in to add depth to the organization. After only seeing action in 73 combined games with the Sox in 2010 and 2011, De Aza was thrown into the starting center fielder role in 2012.
In 2012, the White Sox were in the midst of a surprising fast start. During manager Robin Ventura‘s first year at the helm, one of his moves that received the most praise was slotting De Aza in the leadoff spot. De Aza’s .349 OBP and .281 average made him a table setter at the top of the order that was able to make up for the lack of consistency at the bottom of the lineup.
While his glove was not seen as a plus attribute, that was overlooked due to De Aza’s offensive presence. He became the greatest leadoff hitter the organization has had since Scott Podsednik. A franchise that was desperately searching for years to find a stable presence in center field now had their guy for what they thought was the long haul.
De Aza took several steps forward but a significant number back in 2013. The consistency was not there from De Aza like it was the previous season, but he still remained a catalyst for the lineup at times.
Finishing with a .264 average and an .323 OBP with career highs of 17 homers and 62 runs batted in, De Aza did provide offensive production throughout the year. At times he did look lost at the plate, prompting Ventura to not pencil him in to the No. 1 hole as much, but the biggest problems did not center around him at the plate.
De Aza’s -0.6 WAR, by sabermetric standards, is not impressive, especially compared to his 3.1 and 1.7 the two previous years respectively. Out in the field, however, is where De Aza had the most problems. On several occasions, De Aza would misjudge routine pop flies. His lack of above average range factored into him not being able to make up for these mistakes. Also, De Aza committed base running blunder after base running blunder. While he still was able to get on base with relative success, he would run himself into outs on multiple occasions.
Entering 2014, the belief formulated that De Aza would bounce back due to the platoon situation he would be a part of with Dayan Viciedo. With more time to rest and being able to be matched up only against pitchers he would have success against, the chips were in De Aza’s favor.
The 30 year old got off to a smoldering start by homering twice on Opening Day. He has only hit two since after being forced to start more games than expected due to the season ending injury Avisail Garcia sustained. Since then, Sox fans have been exposed to the what could be labeled as the downfall of De Aza at the plate.
De Aza is hitting .194 with an OBP of .248. His time in the leadoff spot is non-existent as he struggles to get on base. His defense has transformed from average to just awful. On Sunday he misjudged an easy pop up that directly factored into the loss. De Aza’s arm strength, which has been a problem ever since he joined the club, has not improved. Him being a liability in the field is not made up for anymore by what he does at the plate.
The White Sox are not in a position to do much with De Aza. With Adam Eaton just beginning rehab, Viciedo in left, hot hitting Moises Sierra expected to come back down to earth and lack of replacements in the minors, the team has to continue to play De Aza. Once considered a steal on the waiver wire, the Sox might have to get rid of him the same way they acquired him. While his $4.25 million contract makes that unlikely, all the Sox can do is hope that De Aza can turn it around soon.