Well, it’s officially 2015 … so, positional preview time!
The main focus of General Manager Rick Hahn’s aggressive offseason was to build a contender without sacrificing much, if any, of the long-term potential of his ball club. And with the White Sox’ long-term outlook taking a back seat for us fans who are ready to watch the good guys compete for a playoff spot in 2015, it’s important to keep the developmental part of the franchise in mind from time-to-time.
The hot corner is not a position drawing much attention for the upcoming campaign, but it will be a very interesting one to keep an eye on all year. Conor Gillaspie is nothing flashy and certainly isn’t a great ball player, but he has proven to be, at the very least, a solid option who hits righties well. While he seems to be holding his own as an everyday big leaguer, his ceiling is limited and thus we shouldn’t forget the two guys who would like to cut into his playing time in 2015: Tyler Saladino and Matt Davidson.
If you followed the Sox’ farm system at all in 2014, you know Davidson’s story. He was acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks (as a top-100 prospect) for Addison Reed last offseason. He’d gotten a cup of tea (31 games, 87 plate appearances) with the D’Backs in 2013 after putting up his third consecutive impressive season in the minors. But with the Charlotte Knights of Triple-A, he put up the worst numbers of his professional career, hitting .199/.283/.362. Luckily he’s been one of the younger guys around Triple-A ball the past couple years, as 2015 will only be his age 24 season. If he can rebound, Hahn will be very tempted to give him playing time on the south side. He’s got a high ceiling, but first needs to increase his contact rate and answer some questions about his defense.
I mentioned Saladino in the same breath as Davidson for a reason. He’s basically taken the path that Davidson hopes to follow this year. After down years in 2012 and ’13, he bounced back big-time in 2014, hitting .310/.367/.483 in 325 PA’s with the Knights. He’s 25, and after coming up as a highly-touted youngster in the organization, he definitely does deserve to get some attention. Though he bounced back last season and also proved his defensive ability all over the field, he too has obstacles to overcome, not having productive years back-to-back since he was a kid in A-ball, as well as undergoing Tommy John surgery last summer.
Because Gillaspie’s ceiling is lower than Davidson’s and probably even Saladino’s, combined with the fact that Conor just cannot hit lefties (.194/.224/.286 vs LHP compared to .278/.340/.425 vs RHP career), both of the California natives in Davidson and Saladino could at some point play a role with the 2015 White Sox.
Last season, Saladino was a lefty masher, hitting .330/.396/.543. He also torched lefties back in 2010 and 2011 prior to his two-year slump. And keep in mind that because of his current rehab, he may not be ready or at full strength for Spring Training. So, it will be tough for him to beat out Carlos Sanchez and/or Micah Johnson for the second base job. But a platoon with Gillaspie at third base once May or June rolls around seems viable.
Davidson, if he can prove to be a different hitter than we saw in 2014, could also push for a part-time role. However, while he hit lefties well from 2009-2012, they’ve stumped him over the past two seasons. Plus, he still seems to be the likeliest candidate to be a long-term, middle-of-the-order everyday fix at the hot corner for the White Sox.
So, while a hot start to 2015 would undoubtedly tempt the higher ups to bring Davidson to the majors, Saladino actually may be the guy you should expect to dawn the black pinstripes first. His ability to hit lefties and play 5-to-6 positions well would make him a far more valuable asset as a bench player.
Of course, recent acquisition Emilio Bonifacio will also play into the picture at third base, at least somewhat. While a good Spring Training could get Saladino a spot on the Opening Day roster, it’s probably more likely we see Dayan Viciedo get that nod. And that’s OK – it would probably be smart to get one more look at Tank, and the help at the hot corner won’t be needed immediately thanks to the Bonifacio signing. Emilio can play there, and like Saladino, hits lefties well. So yes, he too could be put into a platoon with Gillaspie … thing is, he’ll be needed elsewhere often, whether it be stepping in for Adam Eaton in CF, Melky Cabrera in LF, Alexei Ramirez at SS, or spelling which ever youngster wins the 2B job.
As you can tell, the outlook at the hot corner is not as straightforward as many other spots on the ball club. The good thing is, all the guys we’ve discussed excite us in one way or another. Gillaspie will get the lion’s share of at-bats at the position after a solid 2014, but given the apparent options Ventura will have to compliment Gillaspie with an option for when LHP’s take the mound, the Sox should be able to get solid production at a position that is very thin league-wide.
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