In Abbot and Costello’s famous “Who’s on First” comedy skit, the third baseman’s name was I Don’t Know. Ever since Joe Crede left in 2009, that might as well been the name of the third baseman for the White Sox, as the position has been a carousel with the likes of guys such as Brent Morel, Dallas McPherson, and Josh Fields manning the position for extended periods of time.
After dealing Reed, Keppinger and Gillaspie's roles are up in the air. Credit: Andrew Nellis, Sun-Times
With Matt Davidson coming over from Arizona for Addison Reed, it looks like the Sox could finally have a guy in place at the hot corner. A legitimate power prospect, the 22-year old hit .280 with 17 home runs for AAA Reno last season, won the Futures Game MVP, was a AAA All-Star, and won the AAA Home Run Derby. We’ve seen highly touted prospects flake out a number of times, but this 'retooling process' involves taking risks, and Davidson’s the most exciting one for the Sox at the hot corner since Crede himself.
Some beat writers have suggested that the Sox could take the Avisail Garcia approach with Davidson and start him out in Charlotte this season, but given his success in AAA and the poor production at third base for the Sox last season, it will be a bit of a surprise if Matt Davidson is not starting at third base on Opening Day. Even if he does not start, though, it’s a safe assumption that he’ll be called up at some point in the first half of the season.
So what about everyone else? Jeff Keppinger, Conor Gillaspie, Marcus Semien, and Brent Morel all played third base for the White Sox at one point in 2012, and all four of them are still under contract. With Davidson now in the fold, what are the roles and the futures of these players on the south side?
Well, the futures of Marcus Semien and Brent Morel are now pretty clear. Semien, who profiles as more of a middle infielder to begin with, will no longer be seeing time at third base at any level in the organization. Unless Gordon Beckham or Alexei Ramirez get moved, Semien will be in Charlotte on Opening Day, most likely at shortstop with Carlos Sanchez at second base. He’s still a big part of the future of this ball club, but he does not have to be on the Opening Day roster with the way it is currently constructed.
As for Morel, it’s now clear that the Sox no longer view him as a long-term solution, and his shot at any sort of full-time role with the team appears to be long gone.
It gets a bit tricky when talking about Jeff Keppinger and Conor Gillaspie, though. The Sox signed Keppinger to a three-year deal last off-season, but he failed miserably as the starting third baseman, and it was evident that it is not a role that suits him. Gillaspie played solid defense and showed some flashes at the plate, but that was almost exclusively against right-handed pitching (.261 v. RHP, .159 v. LHP). While it’s not entirely out of the question that Gillaspie could take the next step and become a legitimate full-time third baseman, it’s much more likely that his ceiling is as a situational left-handed bat that can provide defensively at the corner IF spots.
As of right now, it’s tough to say what the roles of both Keppinger and Gillaspie will be on the 2014 squad or if either of them will even have any sort of role.
With both Davidson and Gillaspie ahead of Keppinger on the third base depth chart, Kepp’s only role is likely as a “super-sub.” However, they Sox have another younger, quicker, and more versatile option in Leury Garcia for that spot, and there’s a great chance the Sox will look to move Keppinger for something before Spring Training. Keppinger may not bring in much via trade, but getting his contract off the roster and opening a spot up for the younger Garcia probably appeals to Rick Hahn at this point.
Gillaspie, on the other hand, could still stick on this roster as that situational left-handed hitter or as the stop-gap option if the Sox do choose to start Davidson off in AAA. He showed last year that while he’s by no means a great option at third base, he’s a serviceable one who is capable of holding down the fort for a few months until Davidson is ready. If Davidson does start the season as the everyday third baseman, Gillaspie slides to the bench. However, with Paul Konerko now taking up a roster spot, it’s hard to keep two bench players who can only play one position. Versatility is important with reserves, and with Konkero, Gillaspie, and whoever backs up at catcher on the roster already, the Sox would have to decide between a utility infielder or a fourth outfielder, two roles that are essential on a major league bench.
Because of the conundrum that currently exists with the reserves, there will likely be a few more moves made by Hahn and company that will clearly define which direction the team wants to go with the four backup roles. That will make the situations of Keppinger and Gillaspie become a bit less foggy.
Regardless, one thing’s for sure: the Sox will no longer be counting on either one to produce like full-time starters. That’s a good thing.