Gavin Sheets looks to build off ‘incredible’ first season with White Sox

Sheets is getting lots of work in right field this spring.

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Gavin Sheets rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run during the 2nd inning of Game 4 of the American League Division Series against the Houston Astros at Guaranteed Rate Field on October 12, 2021 in Chicago. (Getty Images)


GLENDALE, Ariz. — White Sox manager Tony La Russa’s lineup Saturday featured almost everyone from the first team but Andrew Vaughn and Yasmani Grandal, who had played the night before.

The designated hitter was Gavin Sheets, who as a rookie last season hit well enough to thrust himself into the DH and right-field picture.

‘‘It was an incredible experience, making my debut and playing in the playoffs,’’ Sheets said. ‘‘It was an unbelievable season. You want to prove that you belong in the big leagues, and I felt like I did last year. There is stuff to work on but plenty to build off.’’

Sheets, 25, showed plenty in batting .250/.324/.506 with 11 home runs and 34 RBI in 179 plate appearances last season. And the postseason moment wasn’t too much for him. His homer in Game 4 of the American League Division Series against the Astros gave the Sox a brief lead.

Sheets arrived at spring training feeling like one of the boys, not a kid finding his way around major-leaguers.

‘‘It’s a different side of spring training I haven’t felt before,’’ he said.

Sheets’ left-handed bat is a commodity. La Russa trusts him in right, although he might not make the transition to the outfield as seamlessly as Vaughn has. A natural first baseman, Sheets is grouped with the outfielders in camp and is doing extra work with outfielders coach Daryl Boston. He’ll be asked to DH and play right field and first base.

‘‘Yeah, he can play right,’’ La Russa said. ‘‘And he can hit.’’

Like Vaughn, Sheets was thrust into a position he hadn’t played much.

‘‘It was crazy, my first game in the big leagues in right field,’’ he said. ‘‘But that’s what you do when you have an MVP [Jose Abreu] at first base. You do what you can to get in the lineup.’’

Cespedes impresses

Cuban outfield prospect Yoelqui Cespedes is getting an extensive look in Cactus League games and has done something to get noticed in all six he has played.

He has homered twice, gone 5-for-17 (.294), thrown out two runners from center field and made good reads on flyballs.

Cespedes has opened some eyes, but he will get more at-bats in the minor leagues after camp.

‘‘He’s got speed, [and] you can see the arm,’’ La Russa said. ‘‘He’s not afraid to swing. He’s got to improve in a couple of areas, [learning the] strike zone. But he has some unique, impactful talent.’’

Cease catching up

Right-hander Dylan Cease was behind some other starters in camp, but only because he wasn’t facing hitters during the lockout.

‘‘I don’t know if I was that behind,’’ he said. ‘‘I was throwing up-down, high-effort bullpens. I just didn’t have the opportunity to face batters. . . . When batters step in there, it’s always a little bit of an adjustment, but I feel like I’m in a good spot right now.’’

Cease allowed one run and one hit, struck out five and walked one in his first start of the spring Friday against the Mariners and quickly is catching up to the others.

‘‘When he first showed up, he was several steps behind,’’ La Russa said. ‘‘It shows you his aptitude and his talent.’’

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