Some narratives turn like the Titanic.
Conor Gillaspie, who we mostly hoped could play well enough to be traded for someone playable by mid-June, is garnering articles of praise. Not effusive praise, but more acknowledgement that he's earned his keep and should probably enter the next season as a presumed starter.
ESPN's Doug Padilla wrote that Gillaspie "has managed to show this season that he has long-term potential at third base." Writing for the Daily Herald, Chris Rongey offered "Gillaspie might just be [the White Sox] answer at third after all."
This is crap*. Or more charitably, I feel it could go farther. And in another direction
Penciling Conor Gillaspie in as the third baseman of the future is a big switch in direction and can understandably feel like a rush to judgment for someone who would have never merited such consideration five months ago. Moreover, Conor Gillaspie is blatantly a platoon player, so even that he's a fantastic one, it makes him hard to conceive of in a full-time role.
But part of the hesitance in fully embracing Gillaspie seems to be the notion that he was bad last year, or "struggled" or "was inconsistent," which strikes me as a failure to asses Gillaspie's value in the correct way. Last season, when most of the White Sox lineup didn't deserve a spot in the major league order, Gillaspie hit .261/.324/.414 vs. right-handed pitching, and served as one of the few presences in the lineup keeping pitchers honest. If it seemed like he struggled, it's partially because he stood in for 66 plate appearances against left-handers, which is something he could not do (.451 OPS in 2013) and still cannot do now (.549 OPS in 2014).
Throwing the full-time responsibilities of third base is overcomplicating the issue, Gillaspie is a bat. He's hitting .337/.393/.500 against right-handed pitching this season, good for a 147 wRC+, which is the eighth-best mark in the American League. That ranks him above Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Jose Bautista. If you had to pick out an AL All-Star lineup to best rough up a right-handed pitcher, Conor Gillaspie would have a statistical case to be in that group. The fact that he could man third base would just make it easier to find him a spot.
While Gillaspie could easily said to be hitting above his head right now, his success against righties is on the solid ground of great contact skills (12.8 K%) and good power (.163 ISO), which is to still withhold giving him full credit for his ability to spray line-drives consistently. The Sox need his bat in the lineup against right-handers. Third base is the best place to put him, but the production of this season would play perfectly fine rotating into the first base or DH slots.
No, Conor doesn't seem like an ideal first baseman or designated hitter. But ideal roles are for All-Star caliber players, and most teams don't have very many. From there, you identify how the guys you've got can be productive, and you put them to work doing it. The White Sox have Jose Abreu, Adam Eaton, Alexei Ramirez's defense, and after that, not a whole lot of things that are running any better than Gillaspie's meticulous destruction of right-handed pitching. They would be wise to stay out of its way.
*Writer note: This is meant to be read as a self-parody of the writer's semi well-known overzealous support for Gillaspie, not a true condemnation of these authors.