A spine-tingling rookie season for White Sox’ Daniel Palka
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MINNEAPOLIS — You’d be hard-pressed to pick the White Sox’ most valuable player in 2018, but their rookie of the year is a no-brainer.
Daniel Palka’s 27 home runs lead the Sox, lead all major league rookies and are tied for third all-time with Zeke Bonura in 1934 among Sox rookies. And the leg-kicking lefty’s 67 RBI are tied for third among major league rookies, with 12 of those runs knocked in happening in the ninth inning.
Palka has poked his homers with some panache, too, with four in a pinch-hitting role which is the most in Sox history, and exit velocity numbers that rank among league leaders.
Not bad at all for a former third-round draft choice picked up on waivers from the Twins in November. To say he’s a media sensation might be a stretch, but Palka has emerged as the closest thing to it for a Sox player in a season that will end with 100 losses if they fall to the Twins again Sunday in the final game of the season.
All of that said, Palka is not being penciled in for a place on the team the Sox believe will be part of a championship core. He’s below average defensively in the outfield and he owns a .237 batting average and .292 on-base percentage after going 1-for-3 with walk and infield single in the Sox’ 8-3 loss Saturday. Palka also struck out for the 150th and 151st times on a night the Sox, with 1,579, broke the one-year-old major league record for strikeouts set by the Brewers last season.
So there are things to work on, including his versatility in the field. Palka played first base in the Diamondbacks and Twins minor league systems and he takes ground balls at first on his days off and when he’s the designated hitter, he said. And manager Rick Renteria said Saturday he’ll tell Palka to keep his first baseman’s glove close by.
“Maybe he can expand it and chase the chicken like Rocky (II), maybe loosen up and play some first base,’’ Renteria said. “Concentrate more on both positions to see if he can come in [to spring training in 2019] on the ground running more acclimated to possibly doing both.’’
That’s good news to Palka.
“I know I’m more of the guy that ultimately in the long run can be a little more utility than sticking in one spot, whether it’s giving someone an off day at first, outfield and going in at DH,’’ Palka said.
It’s been a fun year for Palka, who’s dry sense of humor and wink-wink claims he was a McDonald’s All-American in basketball made him something of a social media darling. He has made numerous TV appearances, most recently on MLB Network’s Intentional Talk, something he never envisioned a few months ago.
“I still get chills interacting with fans,’’ he said. “It’s been such a long time, since college, when you have a fan base. I’ve built a solid group of people interacting. It’s been fun.’’
Palka had a door open because of a hamstring injury to Avisail Garcia.
“For me it was a good first impression for what I can bring to the table,’’ Palka said. “The adjustments I’ve made – defensively and offensively – are going to turn out good for what I’m going to do next year.
“The opportunity I was given to play every day, who knows if would have ever got one with another team. It’s been awesome. The go-ahead situations are my favorites spot. To contribute and help the team is the biggest thing for me. I didn’t want to just be a guy in the lineup.’’
“He’s shown you he has power,” Renteria said. “His at-bats still have to continue to improve. Right now he’s trying to prove to everybody he can do it.”