Don’t look now, but Hanser Alberto may be stealing a roster spot. The White Sox invited Alberto to Spring Training as a non-roster invitee. The first thing that stood out about Alberto was his connection with the Royals.
New manager Pedro Grifol made it a point of emphasis to bring in players he was familiar with during his time in Kansas City. After he was hired, the front office brought in Andrew Benintendi, Billy Hamilton, and Sebastian Rivero and was rumored to be interested in trading for Nicky Lopez. Grifol has worked with all of these players at some point during his time on the Royals coaching staff. It’s clear that Grifol likes what Alberto can bring to the table, which could be beneficial for him when the final roster cuts need to be made.
Alberto is making it difficult for the White Sox to cut him. He has shown up to play this spring as well. The eight-year MLB veteran is hitting .474 in his first 19 at-bats in the Cactus League action with a home run and a 1.395 OPS.
“The Best Teammate I’ve Ever Had”
Former teammates have raved about his leadership.
“Hanser, man, he’s the catalyst in the clubhouse that keeps us all loose,” former Dodger teammate Mookie Betts said when asked about Alberto last season. ” Keeps us having fun. He’s always dancing, always making us smile. Just a very important person to half.”
Alberto can be seen on the television broadcast jumping up and down in the dugout and being very supportive of his teammates. He is a great vibes guy to have around.
“He’s much more impactful than the line score,” Dodger manager Dave Roberts added. This type of positive clubhouse presence is just what the White Sox were missing last season. Elvis Andrus has already shown he can provide leadership. If Alberto makes the roster, he can bring some added energy.
“Great energy from the first day to the last day,” Royals catcher and former teammate Salvador Perez said. Perez also called him one of the best teammates he has ever had.
When the White Sox initially brought him in, it looked like he would have an opportunity to compete for the starting job at second base. Now that Elvis Andrus has the position locked down, Alberto’s best chance to crack the Opening Day roster is as a utility man.
This plays right into his strengths. He provides plenty of versatility. Over the course of his career, he has logged 244 games at second base, 161 at third, 44 at shortstop, seven at first base, and five in the outfield.
Most of his time has been spent at shortstop, second, and third base. Defensive metrics make him an above-average defender at all three positions. Alberto doesn’t have great arm strength but makes up for it with his range. In 2020 he ranked fourth in the AL in range factor and fielding percentage at second base. He also ranked first in putouts that season. However, for his career, he has second base tends to be his worst position. He posted a -3 OAA last season, a -2 mark in 2021, and a -4 mark in 2020.
Putting Pressure On Garcia
He is basically another version of Leury Garcia. The good news for Alberto is that he has hit better than Garcia as of late. Alberto has a career .272 batting average and hits left-handed, pitching well, carrying a .323/.341/.449 slash line against southpaws
The 30-year-old spent the 2022 campaign with the Los Angeles Dodgers and slashed .244/.256/.365 with a pair of homers, nine doubles, and a pair of triples in 159 plate appearances. After the season, Dodgers brass decided to decline his $2 million player option and settle for a $250K buyout.
While Alberto doesn’t exactly scream excellence, he has been a solid player throughout his career and could provide the White Sox with some infield depth. He spent his first three seasons in Texas with limited success. He never played more than 41 games and hit below .200 in two of the three seasons with the Rangers.
In 2019 he got a chance to be an everyday player in Baltimore and put together the best year of his career. He hit .305 with 12 home runs, 51 RBIs, and a .751 OPS in 550 plate appearances. The following season he batted .283 with 22 RBIs and a pair of homers in 54 games.
He signed with the Kansas City Royals during the 2021 offseason and put together another respectable campaign, posting a .270/.291/.402 slash line in 103 games. While 2022 was his least productive season in recent memory, the .292/.315/.411 showing in 1036 plate appearances split between the Orioles and Royals from 2019-21 give White Sox fans some reason for optimism.
Alberto has good bat-to-ball skills and rarely strikes out. He has a career 12.2 strikeout rate which is astonishing when you consider his low 2.3 career walk rate. In 2019 his 9.1 percent strikeout rate ranked in the top one percentile in all of baseball, while his 2.9 walk rate ranked amongst the bottom one percent of the league.
While the low strikeout rate is admirable, his free-swinging approach doesn’t produce much power. He has reached ten-plus homers just once in his career and has a career slugging percentage of just .380. From 2019-20 average exit velocity ranked in the bottom three percent of the league in back-to-back seasons. Last year his average exit velocity was just 82.9 mph. For a White Sox team in need of some power, Alberto does not fit the bill.
Garcia doesn’t hit many home runs either, but he is a switch hitter and is making more money, so he has a built-in advantage should the decision come down to the two of them.
Luckily for Alberto, the other bench options, Victor Reyes, Jake Marisnick, and Romy Gonzalez, have not had a very good spring. Jake Burger and Gavin Sheets have better bats, but Burger cannot play as many positions as Alberto, so he figures to have the edge.
Alberto has a very good chance to steal a bench spot. He may not be an All-Star anytime soon, but he checks plenty of boxes in terms of White Sox needs.