Gavin Sheets blocks out outside noise, chooses his battles

Chicago White Sox’s Gavin Sheets watches after hitting a one-run single during the sixth inning of a game against the Atlanta Braves in Chicago, Tuesday, April 2, 2024. (AP)

Nam Y. Huh/AP Photos

 Gavin Sheets said he didn’t follow White Sox news reports and unfavorable Opening Day roster predictions during spring training.

But his father did.

“One hundred percent,” Sheets said, smiling. “I hear about it, my dad calls and he’s [ticked] off.”

With Mike Moustakas signed to a minor league deal but thought to have a good shot at winning a bench job, and with Sheets having a minor league option left, some (but not Sheets’ family) viewed Sheets, a four-year major league veteran, not making the 26-man Opening Day roster. The left-handed Sheets, after all, batted .203/.267/.331 with a .599 OPS and 10 home runs in 344 plate appearances in 2023, and doesn’t fit the mold of the defensively-upgrading Sox’ plan in the outfield. Converted 6-5, 235-pound first basemen aren’t going to do that.

But Sheets had an .811 OPS with three homers in 24 spring training games, and by the fourth game of the season found himself batting fourth in the Sox lineup as their designated hitter.

Sheets, a vibrant, positive clubhouse presence, survived.

It took Eloy Jimenez’ latest injury to put him in the key cleanup spot, but here he is as Jimenez nurses adductor soreness.

A new, more athletic and aggressive mindset and taking on the pitcher and not himself felt better to him this spring.

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“Wanted to get back to being that dangerous presence in the batter’s box,” Sheets said, “and yeah, I’m batting fourth again today. That shows where they see me.”

Filling the designated hitter slot for injured Eloy Jimenez, Sheets was talking before the Sox’ scheduled game against the Braves was postponed due to rain and snow. He batted fourth in the Sox’ 3-2 win against the Braves Tuesday, their first of the season, and walked twice and fought off an inner-half fastball from Reynaldo Lopez for a bloop, RBI single.

“Being more athletic, being more aggressive, being more offensive,” Sheets said. “Last year it was too much me battling myself. I was never battling the pitcher, I was battling mechanics, the thought process. Tried to iron that out.”

“He dealt with [adversity last season and a job battle this spring],” manager Pedro Grifol said. “The offseason was a great offseason for him. He worked on his body, he worked on his swing. He came in prepared. He’s a left-handed hitter that’s got hitting ability with some power. He got a big hit last night. He’s a part of this thing.”

Sheets’ dad, Larry, it should be said, offers much more to his son than social media watchdog duty. Having played eight seasons in the major leagues from 1984-93 with the Orioles, Tigers and Mariners, batting .266/.321/.437 with 94 home runs, he is a listening ear for a son ironing out the challenges of making a living facing major league pitching.

“Whether it’s pinch hitting, starting, you have to be yourself [is his message],” Sheets said. “You have to be confident, aggressive and make it you against the pitcher and do damage. If I can keep it simple like that and stay offensive, that will go a long way.

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“We go over just about every game. It’s a good conversation because he gets it, he knows how hard the game is more than anybody and what the thought process is like. I bounce things off him, vice versa. It’s a great relationship.”

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