Gavin Sheets brings an edge, power bat to White Sox’ mix

“We’re trying to win a World Series,” Sheets said.

SHARE Gavin Sheets brings an edge, power bat to White Sox’ mix
The White Sox’ Gavin Sheets playing first base.

Gavin Sheets will get more time at first base this season with Jose Abreu gone to Houston.

John Antonoff/For the Sun-Times

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Which home run is bigger to Gavin Sheets: his blast in Game 4 of the 2021 American League Division Series or the White Sox’ first home run of Cactus League play in their opener Saturday against the Padres?

It’s a laughable question. No one will remember his homer at Camelback Ranch, perhaps not beyond this week. For a hot but fleeting minute in Game 4 of the ALDS two seasons ago, Sheets gave the Sox a 1-0 lead against the Astros and Lance McCullers. Guaranteed Rate Field rocked, and there were visions of a series going back to Houston for a deciding Game 5.

The Sox, though, would get crushed 10-1. But it was a moment. It showed Sheets, a rookie who also doubled against McCullers, could handle the big stage.

An Arizona homer pales in comparison, but it is nice to have that first spring dinger in the back pocket. So what if it barely cleared the right-field fence.

“I don’t care if it’s spring training, it’s always good,” Sheets said. “It’s nice to get that first at-bat, continue to build on that.”

Sheets figures to land an Opening Day roster spot, providing a left-handed bat with power. He can back up Andrew Vaughn at first base, get designated-hitter days and even play right field, a position he was thrust into with Vaughn last season. Sheets also will pinch-hit.

The Sox were criticized for playing Sheets and Vaughn out of position. First basemen aren’t going to cover much ground out there. Sheets and Vaughn put in their time trying to become serviceable on the grass. They heard criticism. They are close friends, and the subject came up in their conversations.

“I’ve played first base since I was a kid,” said Vaughn, who gets the spot with Jose Abreu signing with the Astros during the offseason.

“We received a lot of flak for it,” Sheets said. “We trained our whole lives to be first basemen, and we were put out there, and we did the best we were able to do and are still getting better out there. [Vaughn is] probably done in the outfield for now, but I’m still out there and am going to keep trying to get better and better and better. That’s our goal.”

Flak?

“I know there was a bunch of negativity about us being out there,” Sheets said. “I see it still -every day. It’s fine. It doesn’t bother us one bit. We’re trying to find ways to be major-league players. That was a way to get in the lineup. And we did.”

Sheets was out of the lineup and off the team after his first-half struggles last season. A reset at Triple-A Charlotte helped him produce a .264/.304/.461 hitting line and .765 OPS in the second half. He hit 15 homers in 124 games.

“I want to see his bat in the lineup,” said manager Pedro Grifol, who has Sheets working at first base for three days, then the outfield for three in camp. “Right now, we’re playing it day by day. He’s moving around really good at first base, and he’s a confident outfielder, as well. We’ll see [how he gets used]. He’s valuable to us.”

Sheets, meanwhile, says the Sox are using last season’s face-plant as motivation in this camp.

“There’s always an edge with last year,” Sheets said. “We’re trying to win a World Series. Putting last year behind us as best we can. If guys need an edge to do that, that’s what we’re going to do.”

The Sox are equipped to go deep, Sheets said.

“There’s enough in here, for sure. No doubt,” he said. “This is a room filled with guys who were projected to win the World Series last year. We lost [Abreu] and other guys, but we added a lot, too. I really like this team.”

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