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Jacob May wins White Sox center Field job

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The trade of Peter Bourjos opens a spot for the rookie outfielder. What happens now?

MLB: Spring Training-Chicago White Sox at Cleveland Indians Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

With Peter Bourjos heading to the Tampa Bay Rays, the Chicago White Sox have named outfielder Jacob May as their center fielder for Opening Day. Here are some thoughts on what to expect.

May ranked 20th on the Minor League Ball Top 20 2017 Chicago White Sox prospect list back in early January, with the following comment:

20) Jacob May, OF, Grade C+: Age 24, third round pick in 2013; hit .266/.309/.352 with 19 doubles, one homer, 15 walks, 72 strikeouts, 19 steals in 301 at-bats in Triple-A; very athletic with 70-grade speed and good defensive ability; lack of power and arm strength keep him from profiling as a regular; between May and Charlie Tilson the Sox have two good candidates for bench outfield roles in 2017.

Fleshing that out a bit, May was a third round pick out of Coastal Carolina University in ‘13. He comes from a baseball family: he is the grandson of former major league first baseman Lee May and the nephew of outfielder Carlos May, also a big leaguer. The elder Mays were power hitters but Jacob is a speed guy, 70-grade, impressive on the bases and in the outfield, showing the range and instincts for center.

May hit .349/.369/.524 for the White Sox in spring training so far, stealing four bases in five attempts and also contributing three triples and a home run. On the negative side, he has drawn only two walks while fanning 14 times 63 at-bats. Although the batting average in spring training is higher than normal for him, the highly aggressive approach is consistent with his past track record.

As a speed guy without big power, May must focus on getting on base. That doesn’t mean he has to turn into a 100-walk guy to be useful, but right now his OBP is almost completely dependent on his batting average. That’s one thing if you’re hitting .349, but quite another if you’re hitting .249. Given the entirety of his track record, the latter is much more likely than the former.

Steamer projects him at .237/.282/.324. ZIPS is similar at .228/.268/.306. PECOTA is no better, projecting him at .237/.280/.343. No matter how good his glove is, it will be hard for May to stay in the lineup every day with those kind of hitting numbers.

Now, all that said, I have seen enough of May over the years to suspect that he can beat those numbers. No, he is not going to hit .340, or .300. He’s probably not going to hit .280. But I think it plausible he can manage .260, say something along the lines of .260/.310/.370.

That’s nothing special but if his defense is a good as advertised, it will keep him employed, at least as a fourth outfielder.