Jacob May inches closer to big league goal

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Charlie Tilson’s injury bumped Jacob May up the depth chart a notch, perhaps closer to the major leagues than he’s ever been.

May, a leadoff-type switch-hitter who can play all three outfield positions, played the entire 2016 season at AAA Charlotte but was limited to 83 games because of abdominal injuries. He batted .266 with a homer, 19 doubles and two triples.

A third-round Sox draft pick in 2013, May is the son of former major leaguer Lee May Jr. and the grandson of Lee May, who hit 354 major league homers. His uncle Carlos played 10 seasons for the Sox.

Tilson was viewed as the top contender to play center field but a stress reaction in his foot has knocked him out of the picture for now. Veteran Peter Bourjos, 2015 Arizona Fall League MVP Adam Engel — ranked as the best defensive outfielder in the Sox organization who showed why with two diving catches against the Angels Sunday — and May are now in the mix.

Jacob May connects for a triple during the second inning of a spring training baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels, Saturday, March 4, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

May seems to be warming up to the opportunity to show what he can do. He went 4-for-6 leading off in the Sox Cactus League loss to the Dodgers Saturday, hiking his average to .354. Bourjos is batting .387, Engel — who was in the lineup leading off against the Angels Sunday — was at .167 with nine strikeouts.

May doesn’t project to hit with as much oomph as his grandfather and uncle did, but he brings more speed and better defense to the table. He’s more like his father, who played eight years in the Mets organization after getting drafted 21st overall in 1986.

“They were bigger guys had some thunder,’’ May says, and his dad had more speed. “I’m a little hybrid of those guys.”

Going to both sides of the infield, May has bunted his way on base this spring, doing whatever it takes.

“That’s a part of my game I’m going to need throughout the season regardless of where I’m at,” May said.  “Spring training is the time to experiment, try things out and get into the groove of things.

“Like hitting, bunting is something you have to get in a rhythm with so I try to utilize it as much as I can.”

May would only make the Opening Day roster if the Sox believe he is ready to play on an everyday basis. They wouldn’t have him up to play part-time.

“He’s an excellent defender and he can swing from both sides of the plate,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He’s been trying to get on base by bunting to both sides. He’s trying to see the landscape of how they try to play him.

“He can do a lot of things. We can move him around from center to left to right, and he has shown the ability to get on base. He’s hitting the ball pretty well to center field.”

In any event, May knows he’s getting closer. A bruised right pinky cut his 2014 season short at Class A Winston-Salem and the 2015 season at Birmingham was interrupted when he suffered a concussion after colliding with Tim Anderson.

Even if he opens the season at Charlotte, he knows a good camp in 2017 will put him closer than ever to the majors.

“I can sense it a little bit but I try not to think about it or harp on it too much,” he said. “That can add pressure. That time will come when it comes, it’s not something I can control.”

“It’s been a good [camp]. Every year is a learning experience, trying to get better every day and that’s where I am this year. Get better every day and let the cards fall where they fall.”

Here is the Sox lineup for Sunday, with left-hander Carlos Rodon making his first start:

Adam Engel CF, Tim Anderson SS, Melky Cabrera LF, Cody Asche DH, Tyler Saladino 3B, Matt Davidson 1B, Joan Moncada 2B, Omar Narvaez C, Rymer Liriano RF, Rodon P