GLENDALE, Ariz. – If anyone was born to play baseball, it’s Jacob May.
May’s father, Lee May Jr., was a Mets first-round draft pick who never made it to the majors but stayed in professional baseball as a coach. His grandfather, Lee May, hit 354 major league homers. And May’s uncle Carlos has a White Sox pedigree – a two-time All-Star on those good red-striped White Sox teams starring Dick Allen and managed by Chuck Tanner during the early 1970s.
“Any time you’re around someone who has been in the game you soak it all in,’’ May, a switch-hitting center fielder, said. “Even the little things you’re comprehending.’’
A third-round draft pick out of Coastal Carolina in 2013, May, who is experiencing his first major league camp, doesn’t carry himself like a privileged prospect. He knows his dad was expected to make it to the majors but came up short. He knows baseball is tough to master.
“I’m grateful and blessed to be here,’’ May said.
May is grateful and blessed to have survived a scary collision in the outfield with shortstop Tim Anderson, the organization’s top position-player prospect [and his roommate at the time] while playing for AA Birmingham last summer. A concussion shelved him for six weeks, and he doesn’t remember the crash.
“It was a freak accident,’’ said May, who had opened the season with a .311 batting average and 25 stolen bases in 52 games. His numbers flattened out when he returned, not a shocking development considering the severity of the injury, and he finished with a .275 average, .329 on base percentage and 37 stolen bases.
The Sox, who haven’t drafted and developed nearly enough position players to stock their major league roster for years, need prospects like May – who will likely start the season at AAA Charlotte — to pan out. They’ve filled his position like every other, trading for Adam Eaton and, most recently, signing Austin Jackson to a one-year, $5 million contract. Bullish on his skill and feel for the game, they think they might have a keeper in May.
“This kid knows how to play the game,’’ Sox director of player development Nick Capra said. “He’s a real good defender with good range and a good arm. He has a chance to be a table setter with on-base potential. He bunts well and is a threat on the bases.’’
He has looked good in Arizona, making two starts in center and going 3-for-8 with two doubles, two RBI and two stolen bases in two attempts.
May, 24, who was born in Williamsport, Pa., home of the Little League World Series, was raised to be a ballplayer.
“Growing up I was always in dugouts and clubhouses with my dad as he coached,’’ he said. “I was always blessed to be around the game.
“He pushed me to work hard, established my work ethic and that nothing is going to come easy to you.
“The White Sox have done a great job establishing my foundation to utilize my speed. They do a great job to make sure we’re always thinking the game. We’re always learning, growing. You never stop growing in this game, or in life.’’
With center fielder Adam Eaton restricted to designated hitter as he builds strength in his throwing shoulder, May got a second start in center field with the Sox regulars Sunday. Batting left-handed, he laid down a sacrifice bunt and lined a double down the left-field line to drive in two runs.
Then he stole third base.
“He’s got a lot of tools and one of the biggest things is he’s not afraid,’’ manager Robin Ventura said. “He’s stealing bases, smart, heady player, puts the bat on the ball, run the bases well.’’
May is more of a small-ball guy than his kin, but the Sox can probably find a place on their roster for an outfielder who can cover gaps, handle the bat, and run.
“They were bigger guys had some thunder,’’ May said. “We all bring our own type of game. My dad, he had some wheels. I’m a little hybrid of those guys. ‘’Everyone has their own talents.’’