Daniel Palka packing some punch in White Sox’ lineup
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When White Sox slugger Daniel Palka hits the ball, he hits it hard. It’s as though there is no other way for the leg-lifting, left-handed-hitting exit-velocity king.
In the old days, there were home-run kings. In an age of newfangled ways to measure outcomes on the field, much is made of velocity — from off the pitcher’s hand to off the hitter’s bat. When Palka barrels up a pitch, he can make baseballs travel at dangerously high speeds from foul pole to foul pole.
‘‘He can hit a bullet to all parts of the ballpark,’’ Sox hitting coach Todd Steverson said.
Palka launched a 432-foot homer Wednesday in Cincinnati, a day after lifting rockets of 448 and 428 feet there. He smacked a more modest 357-foot homer to the opposite field Saturday in Houston. He has 11 homers overall, a number that ranks third among American League rookies behind Yankees teammates Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar.
Palka, 26, has homered four times in his last five games and ranks among MLB Statcast leaders in average fly ball/line drive exit velocity (third, 99.6 mph) and hard-hit percentage (sixth, 53.6). His 118.4 mph exit velocity on one particular ball strike is the fourth-highest in the majors this season.
Claimed on waivers in October from the Twins after hitting 106 homers in five minor-league seasons, Palka made his major-league debut with the Sox on April 25 and made his mark by leaving marks on baseballs.
‘‘Hitting has always been my forte, from tee ball on up,’’ said Palka, a muscular 6-2, 220-pounder.
Exit velocity is a trendy stat in the information age, and that’s good for a hitter such as Palka, who is trying to carve a niche for himself in the majors.
‘‘It means you’re seeing the ball good,’’ said Palka, who is hitting .226 with a .277 on-base percentage and a .462 slugging percentage. ‘‘It doesn’t tell you anything about what you’re doing mechanically, but if you’re hitting balls hard, there is not much to change. If that starts to dip, it means something is off with your mechanics or you’re chasing pitches you shouldn’t chase.’’
Called up from Class AAA Charlotte because of injuries to outfielders Avisail Garcia and Nicky Delmonico, Palka is making the most of his opportunity of getting semi-regular playing time with a rebuilding team. He isn’t on the list of the Sox’ top prospects, but that doesn’t matter to him.
‘‘I’m getting an opportunity to play somewhere,’’ Palka said. ‘‘It might be one year, it could turn into 20 years. Same game plan. It comes down to putting in good at-bats and working on the defense. I just need more consistency, at the plate and on defense, to get me to that next step.’’
Palka has struggled defensively but seems to have cleaned that up a bit with the help of coach Daryl Boston. He was thrust into playing right field early on but has played left since Garcia returned from the disabled list. He said he sees the ball off the bat better in left, but he might be getting more time in right again after Garcia left a game with a tight hamstring Sunday.
More playing time also has built a scouting book on Palka, which will heighten the importance of plate discipline for him, Steverson said. His 33.8 percent strikeout rate and 6.6 percent walk rate demand improvement.
‘‘He still needs to learn how to approach the at-bat, knowing [pitchers] know his strength and they’re trying to pitch away from the strength,’’ Steverson said.
‘‘He can hit the ball out of all parts of the ballpark. Knowing when to use the other side of the field is going to be key. . . . That’s the maturation process. He’s going through it right now.’’
NOTE: A day after outfielder Avisail Garcia came out of a game with a tight right hamstring, the Sox claimed outfielder Ryan LaMarre off waivers from the Twins. LaMarre, 29, batted .263 with no homers and eight RBI in 43 games before being designated for assignment July 2.
An update on Garcia’s status will come Tuesday. The Sox’ 40-man roster is at 39.