Adam Engel’s bat shows signs of catching up

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The  Sox lost 95 games in 2017, but there were enough positives to keep fans interested.

There was Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Nicky Delmonico after their call-ups from Class AAA Charlotte. There was hustle and enthusiasm as the young team going nowhere played .500 ball over the last 44 games.

There was also rookie center fielder Adam Engel’s defense. Fast, rangy, athletic and sometimes spectacular, Engel’s play in center was, as they say, worth the price of admission (especially on Family Sundays).

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Adam Engel swings for a double during the second inning of a spring training baseball game against the Oakland Athletics on Monday, Feb. 26. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

But Engel’s bat wasn’t up to the level of his defense.

Engel, 26, batted .166, a number so far below the Mendoza line it stretches your grandfather’s old-school comparison to Ken Berry, the Sox center fielder who caught everything at Comiskey Park from 1965-70 and made the All-Star team in 1967 despite hitting .241.

Engel posted a poor .235 on-base percentage, struck out 117 times in 97 games and finished trending downward. And it’s not like he was slugging the ball when he made contact. He hit six homers.

With two weeks until opening day, Engel is building a case to warrant another extended look. The Sox have little to lose and have limited options pushing him with prized Cuban center field prospect Luis Robert probably two springs away from staking his claim to the position. And Engel, who homered twice in the game against the Mariners on Monday night, is having a good spring.

“I’m excited,’’ said Engel, who is hitting at a .276/.364/.759 clip with a team-high four homers over 12 games and 29 at-bats this spring. “I’m getting more comfortable every day. I’m getting closer to where I want to be.’’

Granted, small sample sizes of stats in “practice-game” environments are processed with caution, but the numbers and Engel’s determined plan to change things keep the window open for a potentially brighter outlook.

“I’ve been swinging since October and working ever since,’’ Engel said.

With his defense, Renteria will accept marginal offense, which Engel didn’t show last season.

“Put the ball in play a little bit more, have quality at-bats and take advantage of his speed,’’ Renteria said. “He’s had some success. He’s driven the ball well, he’s putting the ball in play, he’s using his legs very, very well and he’s keeping innings alive. I think he’s growing.’’

A career .260/.341/.400 hitter in the minor leagues, Engel found out what he was up against after he was recalled from Class AAA on May 27.

“It was an incredible experience last season,’’ Engel said. “You face the best arms in baseball and see what they have and what it’s going to take to have success night in and night out.’’

Knowing that, Engel, who finished the season with an 0-for-21 swoon, worked long hours on hitting during the offseason.

“My goal now is to put the ball in play every at-bat,’’ Engel said. “Try to hit a line drive and if I miss, miss on top of the ball. Now I’m getting more specific with direction, try to hit a line drive up the middle or to the right side or only swing at a pitch in this part of the zone.’’

Engel said his approach in the final week of spring games will shift to “zone in on a season approach where I’m trying to put anything over the plate in play.’’

Putting more balls in play would be a good thing, because, as Engel knows, catching everything in play isn’t enough.

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Adam Engel. (Getty Images)