A stress fracture in his right ankle caused Charlie Tilson to miss the entire 2017 season before returning in October to play in the Arizona Fall League. Prior to the injury, he appeared poised to enter the season as the White Sox's starting center fielder and leadoff man, and both of those roles could be his for Opening Day in 2018. Likely just a fourth outfielder in the long run, Tilson will get his chance to prove he is more than that on the rebuilding White Sox. He was a 70-grade runner before last season's injury, but it remains to be seen if he still brings that level of explosiveness to the field. While he packs very little power, he has always been an excellent contact hitter (12.9 percent strikeout rate at Triple-A). Tilson has also improved his walk rate each season, which is why he makes sense atop a second-division lineup. On the high end, he could offer 80-plus runs, 25-plus steals and a .270-.280 average if he were to hold onto that role all season.
Tilson was optioned to Triple-A Charlotte on Tuesday. The speedy outfielder was expected to compete for the starting gig in center field as far back as last season, but injuries plagued him in 2017 and essentially made it a lost season. Due to that, the White Sox opted to take things slowly with Tilson and have him start in the minors rather than rush him to the majors. Tilson batted .282 with 15 steals at Triple-A in the Cardinals' organization back in 2016, so it's not out of the question for him to return to the big leagues quickly if he gets off to a hot start with Charlotte.
Tilson seems to be the backup in center field to start spring training, Scot Gregor of the Chicago Daily Herald reports. As things stand now, Adam Engel appears to be the top center fielder on the depth chart. It certainly isn't due to on-field performance, though. Tilson offers more upside at the plate, as he most recently batted .282 with 15 steals at the Triple-A level. That was in 2016 though, as the 25-year-old missed all of last season due to a stress reaction in his foot and a stress fracture in his ankle. Tilson is fully healthy heading into spring training, but the fact that he hasn't played much in the past year has him a bit lower in the pecking order to begin the season. He very well could make a push for the starting gig early on in the season if he gets back to his pre-injury form quickly.
Tilson slashed .188/.325/.250 over 40 plate appearances in the Arizona Fall League. The 24-year-old Tilson has had nothing but health woes since the White Sox acquired him, so having a relatively healthy fall -- he also participated in fall instructionals -- is a positive sign. Center field is one of a few position battles that will be settled during spring training. If Tilson remains healthy, he will be in the mix to start in center field along with Adam Engel and Leury Garcia.
Tilson (ankle) was officially reinstated from the 60-day DL on Thursday. Although Tilson finally got rid of his injury designation Thursday, he's been able to play in instructional league games since Oct. 9, and has competed in three Arizona Fall League games over the past week. Looking ahead, Tilson could start the 2018 season in the White Sox's starting nine, depending on his performance in spring training.
Tilson (ankle) played in his first instructional league game Monday and is back in the lineup Tuesday. He felt great after playing five innings and getting three at-bats, and the fact that he did not need the next day off suggests his ankle is close to fully healed. Tilson could open the year as the starting center fielder on the rebuilding White Sox if he impresses in spring training. He has a classic leadoff profile, and has shown an ability to hit above .280 with a low strikeout rate and the speed to steal 15-to-20 bases in the upper levels of the minors.