BOZICH | Happy Homecoming for former Louisville outfielder Adam Engel
CINCINNATI, Ohio (WDRB) -- Adam Engel had five hits in three games at Texas last weekend. He went four-for-four against the Orioles in May, flashing the tools that convinced the Chicago White Sox to draft him out of the University of Louisville in 2013.
He has homered against Sonny Gray and Carlos Carrasco. Engel also launched one of his eight career home runs in Wrigley Field. Nothing gives a young White Sox player immediate acceptance in Chicago like a home run against the other team in town.
But Monday night, in his 172nd big-league game, Engel celebrated another moment for his baseball scrapbook:
His first game against the team that Engel supported before he arrived at U of L -- the Cincinnati Reds.
Check the section along the third base line behind the White Sox dugout, especially the folks wearing gray “Adam Engel 15” T-shirts. More than 150 family members and friends from his hometown of Loveland, Ohio, about 20 minutes from Great American Ball Park, celebrated his arrival. There were fans wearing Louisville baseball caps and shirts in the group, too.
The fan club will grow Tuesday and Wednesday evenings when the White Sox and Reds play the final games of the three-game series. Engel’s Mom, Lynne, said she purchased more than 250 tickets for the Tuesday game -- and sold all of them.
“Neighbors, teachers, coaches, friends,” Lynne Engel said. “It’s great.”
It’s the post-card baseball story of a player making his way from Little League to high school to college to the big-league park where he once ate popcorn and wondered if his face would smile from the front of a trading card.
“I was a Barry Larkin guy,” Engel said. “I played infield back then. I’d come to this park at least one a year, a little more after I got in high school.
“Adam Dunn, Austin Kearns, Scott Rolen. Jason LaRue (the former Reds’ catcher) was another guy I really liked.”
Engel turned down a Big Ten football scholarship to play baseball for Dan McDonnell at Louisville -- and he made it. (Engel is one of seven former Louisville players in the White Sox system. He hopes to be joined by former closer Zack Burdi, who is recovering from elbow surgery, next season.)
Kids from Loveland called to Engel for his autograph before the game. They waved signs. They chanted his name. They stood and caught the attention of the producer of the White Sox telecast after Engel singled and scored the tying run (in a game the Sox lost 5-3) during a seventh-inning rally.
“Awesome to have people here supporting me and great to be back home and see friends, sleep in my own bed,” Engel said.
Engel has hits in nine of his last 11 games, including the last four. He has dragged his batting average from .163 (May 11) to .224 (the highest since June 12). His manager, Rick Renteria, is a fan, who has started Engel in center field in 67 of the White Sox’s 84 games, a confident endorsement of a guy who hit .166 as a rookie last season.
“He’s starting to show everybody that he’s harnessing all aspects of the game,” Renteria said. “Both defensively, the metrics are starting to show a positive outlook on him again. He does little things that help us win ball games.
“I know all the numbers don’t show It, but this kid wants to excel at the major league level. He knows he’s got to do things and continue to improve at certain aspects, specifically at the offensive side, But he knows it and he works very, very hard at it.
“I would never gamble against him because of the determination and tenacity that he has.”
Translation: Engel plays winning defense in center field, covering ground in the gaps and taking away line drive hits because plus-speed enables Engel to position himself closer to the infield.
White Sox radio analyst Darrin Jackson, a former big-league center fielder, said Engel is one of the best outfielders in the AL in his first-step anticipation. Radio voice Ed Farmer complimented his ability to read balls off the bat and make accurate throws.
But for Engel, like most young players, it always returns to these three words:
Will he hit?
Two seasons into a rebuild, the White Sox have the third-worst record in the major leagues. They lose nearly two of every three games. This is a season for Engel to prove he can bump his batting average from .224 to .250 and his on-base percentage from .284 to .325.
It’s unlikely he’ll ever be a big power guy. Only 14 of his 50 hits are for extra-bases. But his defense and ability to steal bases (10 in 12 attempts) give Engel a chance.
"Playing good defense and just trying to contribute offensively the best I can, still polishing that part of my game,” Engel said. “That’s what I’m working on now.
“So for me at this stage of my career I’m trying to establish myself as an every day player.
“I’m trying to prove I can contribute on both sides.”
If Adam Engel can do that, there will be more Happy Homecomings like there were Monday night at Great American Ball Park.
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