- Doug Padilla, ESPN Staff Writer
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With their vacancy on the infield this winter, the Chicago White Sox went out to fill multiple needs with a single player.
Enter new third baseman Jeff Keppinger, who not only takes the open infield corner position, but his ability to make contact at the plate gives the White Sox the type of No. 2 hitter they have been looking for.
Keppinger has actually been more of a utility infielder by trade and has been understandably ecstatic over the chance to have a position to call his own, not to mention the consistent at-bats that come with it.
Paul Konerko will once again man first base in what could be his last season in a White Sox uniform. It's a familiar situation for Konerko, who ended up re-signing with the club after both the 2005 and 2010 seasons when his contract expired.
But at 37 now, Konerko's return is more difficult to predict. The White Sox could go with Adam Dunn at first base next season or even move Dayan Viciedo there to open a spot in the outfield for a number of emerging prospects.
Up the middle of the infield, the White Sox have a pair of infielders that should be able to enter the Gold Glove discussion. It remains to be seen what shortstop Alexei Ramirez and second baseman Gordon Beckham do on the offensive side.
Beckham will once again enter a season trying to reach that bar he set so high for himself with an impressive rookie season in 2009. His production was trending slightly upward last season after two consecutive years of decline.
Since signing a contract extension before the 2011 season, Ramirez has shown somewhat of a decline as well. Two years ago he tried a patient approach, walking a career-best 51 times, but his batting average and slugging percentage took a hit. Last year he was more free-swinging with 16 walks, but in addition to more batting average and slugging percentage declines, his on-base percentage took a predictable hit.
Now healthy after a nagging wrist injury last season, Ramirez has vowed better power numbers and a return to the upper-echelon defense that has been expected of him.
THREE KEYS TO SUCCESS
• The White Sox's captain will need a return to prominence to make the team's blueprint work best. Rather than advancing age, Konerko's production decline last season could be directly related to nagging injuries like a concussion and wrist issues. Five times Konerko has reached 30-homer, 100-RBI plateaus (he just missed in 2001 with 99 RBIs) and even at 37 there is no reason to think he can't get there again.
• The fact that Beckham showed tons of improvement on defense is a god sign to the White Sox front office and coaching staff. It not only helped to raise his stock with team decision makers, it showed that he does have the ability to make tweaks in his game and have them work out for the better. All eyes will once again be on his offense as he tries to dig his way out of his personal hole from the No. 9 spot in the order.
• The name Tadahito Iguchi has been mentioned on occasion this spring. It's not that Keppinger's game necessarily matches that of Iguchi, who started at second base for the 2005 World Series champion White Sox, but similarities do exist. Like Iguchi, Keppenger is adept at handling the bat and might be as good as it as anybody in the American League. If he excels at situational hitting, it could set the table for the heart of the order.