What do the White Sox have at each position after the 2014 offseason? The picture has gotten a bit clearer with the recent cuts and reassignments. Let's take a look at the White Sox's third base position to see how it stacks up for 2014 and beyond.
Let's just get this out of the way...
Jeff Keppinger landing on the disabled list could be a blessing in disguise for the White Sox for multiple reasons. First and foremost, Keppinger was terrible last year. In the first half he compiled a wRC+ of 50 over 289 plate appearances. He did not walk until the 33rd game of the season last year. An offensive performance so poor is comparable to notorious noodle-batted hitters like Darwin Barney (51 wRC+) and Alcides Escobar (49 wRC+) and Keppinger is not nearly as good as either defensively.
One of the other reasons that Keppinger's DL stint could be a good thing for the White Sox is that it opens up what looked to be a very crowded infield to the start of the season. This leaves Conor Gillaspie, who should be happy despite the sad expression he consistently has on his face, as the starting third basemen to begin the season. While Gillaspie only amassed an 85 wRC+ in 2013, his offensive production was a breathe of fresh air after dealing with some very poor production in seasons past at third base. The question with Gillaspie has always been his defense. I am sure you have already blocked this game against the Tigers from your memory...
While Gillaspie is still only 26 years-old, he doesn't appear to have the tools to develop into much more than he is now. He is essentially acting as a placeholder until our return from the Addison Reed trade with the Diamondbacks, Matt Davidson, is ready to make his White Sox debut.
Davidson & Co.
Matt Davidson and Alex Liddi will start the season in Charlotte. Alex Liddi will provide depth in the event of an injury but is behind Davidson on the depth chart. Liddi has good power but he can't make contact. In 188 major league plate appearances (yes, it is a small sample) he struck out an alarming 38.8% of the time. Additionally, his on-base percentage over that span was .266!
Davidson is the third baseman of the future for the White Sox barring some unforeseen event. While the team has said that Davidson is nearly major league ready, there may be other reasons why he doesn't start the season with the White Sox. Davidson has plenty of power (.201 ISO in AAA and .197 ISO in MLB) and he walks a good amount (11.5% in 2013) but like Liddi he strikes out a lot (26.8% in AAA and 27.6% in MLB). His defense has come into question even though he had a good showing in spring training.
More Depth in Birmingham
Ben Kline, Cody Puckett, and Daniel Wagner were all on the Birmingham Barons' roster in 2013 and they will likely be there again in 2014. Each of these third basemen are in their mid to late-20s, which is a little old for Double-A. None have shown anything with the bat. I wouldn't whip out a set of notecards to try and memorize these names as you will likely never see them in a White Sox uniform.
Single-A, Rookie Ball, and the Dominican
Jeremy Farrell is a 27 year-old third baseman who had a .761 OPS at High-A Winston-Salem in 2013. Enough said. Eric Grabe is three years younger but has only reached Single-A Kannapolis. Grabe and Farrell are both non-prospects.
Nick Basto split time between Rookie ball and Single-A last season. While he hit well in limited playing time for Great Falls in Rookie ball, he struggled mightily after being promoted to Kannapolis (.190/.235/.230). He is only 19 years-old so this is not all that surprising.
Zach Voight is another over-aged third baseman who spent last season with Great Falls in the Rookie ball league. Even though he hit well for Great Falls, at 23 years-old he would need to rocket through the minor league system to have any chance at seeing the big leagues in his career.
The last two third basemen I'll mention are both young prospects who were recently acquired by the White Sox. Trey Michalczewski is a 19 year-old who was drafted out of high school in the 7th round of the 2013 draft. While Michalczewski did not light the world on fire with his performance for the Bristol Sox last year (.236/.324/.328), he definitely has some potential if he can continue to develop.
The White Sox signed Luis Castillo out of the Dominican Republic in 2012 for $450,000. He is a physical specimen at 6'3", 200 lbs as a 17 year-old. Scouts were impressed by his raw power but there are differing opinions as to whether he will stick at third base or not.
With stopgaps at the major league level, it is all about the minors at third base. Matt Davidson is the only prospect who is close to the majors at this point. However, there are some interesting guys at the lower levels such as Trey Michalczweski, Nick Basto, and Luis Castillo. While I expect the White Sox to continue to add talent at third base given the difficulty in finding competence at the position at the major league level, this is one position that the White Sox have at least a couple guys to keep an eye on.