Later this month when Spring Training kicks off, the White Sox will have at least a couple positional battles underway. The fifth starter and a bullpen role or two will certainly be up for grabs, but the same can't quite be said for the third base job.
Photo credit: Brian Garfinkel, Getty Images via CBS Chicago
When the White Sox acquired Matt Davidson (pictured above) from the Diamondbacks for closer Addison Reed in December (link), most people out there quickly assumed that the starting third base job would be Davidson's from the get-go. Expectations were quickly tempered.
I remember that our buddy, MLB.com beat writer Scott Merkin told us how much the organization likes Conor Gillaspie, who played 113 games at third for the Sox in 2013, and that something extreme would have to happen for him not to be with the major league team on Opening Day. For most, including myself, acquiring Davidson was something extreme enough.
It's hard to not remember Gillaspie's 2013 campaign, at least somewhat, by how he burst onto the scene and forced Jeff Keppinger out of an everyday role (until Gordon Beckham got hurt). In April he racked up 68 plate appearances, slashing .311/.368/.492 with six extra-base hits. In May, those numbers dropped to .263/.322/.350 in 87 PA's with much less pop and patience, though he was still making plenty of contact and hitting the ball hard more consistently than most others.
He put up similar mediocre numbers to those in July and September, but each of those months were preceded by atrocious performances in the respective months prior.
But the point is this: even if we give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he can level out and become more consistent in his second full season in the big leagues, he's still just a replacement-level player. He may be a replacement-level guy who hits left-handed, has a nice swing, and fits the 'gritty ball player' mold, sure. And I know, it'd be foolish to think that a 26 year-old former first round pick can't improve … he's entering what should be the best years of his career.
I'm just going to hope that's why it seems the organization is giving him the benefit of the doubt, at least for now, over Davidson, who will be celebrating his 23rd birthday in March. Because it seems there's a much more extensive argument that can be supported in favor of Davidson being the starter from day one.
*DEEP BREATH* I know, I know Davidson can still win the big league job in Spring Training. But as CSN's Dan Hayes laid out, "several factors leave him with long odds."
Those long odds are, well, his offense and his defense. He's no wizard at the hot corner and is prone to striking out, but these are things the Sox knew when acquiring him for Addison Reed, a move that couldn't have pointed to the team's long-term mindset any more. (Gillaspie's .940 Fielding % and 17.4 K-rate don't know your socks off, though)
Would a couple months in AAA Charlotte really help him improve on those potential downfalls to his game? I doubt it.
One of two things can happen with Davidson in the minors. One, he could perform well so you call him up hoping he can translate that success in the near future. Or two, he doesn't perform as well as you expect him to in AAA. But even in that case, you're still going to call him up and cross your fingers that it's the right spark to get him going.
As GM Rick Hahn said Tuesday on MLB Network's 'Clubhouse Confidential', "We'll see a lot of him this season once we feel he is truly ready." I don't sense much doubt in that sentence. So yeah, I feel pretty good about guaranteeing that one of the two scenarios previously mentioned pans out. I just do not see him going down to Charlotte and making some significant improvements in his game from the player he's always been, before whenever it is that he'd be called up.
And what if Gillaspie does perform pretty well this year? By no means would I ever wish any poor performances upon him, but what if he does look too good to ditch in favor of Davidson? It would be foolish to bank on being able to deal Gillaspie or Jeff Keppinger (who will be the starting third baseman against lefties if Gillaspie has the job out of camp or a super-sub if Davidson has it). With Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn on the crowded roster, it's not like there's room to just bring up Davidson out of the blue whenever you feel like it, either.
A line Hayes had in his piece reads as follows: "They can afford to not rush him." And that statement alone is very true. But even if he does look just alright in the spring, would putting him on the big league roster really be rushing him?
Last year with the Diamondbacks as a late-season call-up, Davidson held his own (stats). Sure, the 24 K's in 87 PA's were pretty high, but it's a small sample size and in every other regard he did just fine; pretty much what you'd expect from a 22 year-old rookie.
He's ready to be an everyday big leaguer. If anything, being with the players and coaches in Chicago will help him improve his game as he goes more so than if he were with Charlotte.
So yeah, in case you couldn't tell by now, I'm mulling over hashtag options for the Davidson campaign we'll be running throughout March.
Sorry Conor. I hope you prove me wrong and this works out for you and Davidson, I just don't see that happening. At least not on the south side.