Doug Padilla previews the White Sox by position in the days leading up to pitchers and catchers reporting for spring training on Tuesday.
Short on cash to spend on the free-agent market, the White Sox opted for a three-year, $12 million deal with Keppinger, who is actually a utility man supreme. In fact, Keppinger has played twice as many games at second base (307) as he has at third (152). He even has more games at shortstop (178) than third base.
What it could mean is that while playing plenty of third base in the upcoming season, he could also loom as a second base option if Gordon Beckham goes through some prolonged struggles.
FIRST BASE: This time, it could actually be Paul Konerko's last season in a White Sox uniform. The chances of Konerko re-signing, like he did after the 2005 and 2010 seasons, don't seem as strong this time. For starters, the White Sox could bid farewell to their longtime captain and hand over first base to Adam Dunn, who is signed through 2014. An eventual long-term option could end up being Dayan Viciedo. As for this season, Dunn is expected to get more playing time at first base in order to get Konerko more designated-hitter days. That plan is all in the name of getting as much offense as possible from the soon-to-be 37-year-old Konerko by keeping him as fresh as possible. Lars Anderson, claimed off waivers from the Boston Red Sox, figures to be destined for Triple-A Charlotte.
SECOND BASE: Welcome to another season when Beckham must prove to the White Sox that he can reach the potential that has been expected of him. Going back to 2011, though, scouts have noted that the Georgia product doesn't look as if he will ever reach the level that was projected after an impressive rookie season in 2009. The end of the 2012 season was impressive, as Beckham used a 2 ½-week stretch in September to deliver four home runs, 11 RBIs, a .340 batting average and a 1.116 OPS. But if he continues to post monthly batting averages under .190 like he did twice last season, the White Sox could be ready to make some changes. He's turned himself into a Gold Glove-caliber defender, but he needs to show a more all-around package.
SHORTSTOP: Alexei Ramirez has failed to continue that breakout-star buzz since signing a four-year contract extension just before spring training in 2011. He hasn't been terrible, but that dominating season that has been expected still hasn't emerged. Besides that, the Gold Glove talk he was garnering early in his career has subsided. Ramirez admitted last month that his play hasn't met his standards, calling Beckham far better on defense and saying he needs to deliver more with the bat. He's now fully healed from wrist discomfort that nagged him toward the end of last season. When Ramirez needs a day off, Keppinger is expected to slide over from third base to shortstop.
THIRD BASE: The White Sox's plan seems to be that Keppinger plays somewhere between 110 and 120 games at third. That would leave a decent amount of playing time for whoever ends up being the backup. Brent Morel is on his way from back issues and could end up getting some starts at third base with some pinch-hit assignments mixed in for good measure. But his health remains uncertain, which is why Josh Bell and Steve Tolleson will be in camp on minor-league deals. Both have played third base in the major leagues.
UTILITY ROLE: Carlos Sanchez is one of the top prospects in the organization, and is a middle infielder of the future, but it figures to be too early for his arrival at the big-league level. Angel Sanchez figures to be a better bet for that spot. He batted .320 at Triple-A last season and was expected to compete for a utility role with the Los Angeles Angels before the White Sox pried him away in the Rule 5 draft. Sanchez played 110 games for the Astros in 2011. Keppinger's ability to play multiple positions essentially makes him a full-time utility guy.