Sunday, August 17, 2014
Conor Gillaspie hitting his stride
By Doug Padilla
CHICAGO -- Even without the kind of power he flashed Sunday, Conor Gillaspie has managed to show this season that he has long-term potential at third base for the Chicago White Sox.
As recently as the start of the season, that didn't seem a likely scenario. Gillaspie had a tendency to overthink things and failed to show consistency at the plate last year (his first with the White Sox), and his defense raised some red flags.
The White Sox even went out and traded closer Addison Reed to get power-hitting third baseman Matt Davidson into the system. If Gillaspie was prone to having his mind moving too fast, the presence of Davidson would surely spin him off his axis.
Instead, the Wichita State product has managed to lock in, mentally. He beat Davidson for the third-base spot this spring and has not looked back. After posting a batting average that reached as high as .353, on June 9, Gillaspie entered Sunday seventh in the American League with a .311 mark.
The White Sox gave up major league talent to get Gillaspie, who is in the AL's top 10 in batting average after a forgettable 2013 season.
"He's getting better at third base, so I think the way he swings the bat, he's definitely a piece that you like, and he's a good player," manager Robin Ventura said when asked if Gillaspie has developed into a core player. "I think on winning teams he's going to be a good player."
If there was an area Gillaspie seemed to sacrifice to get more base hits, it was the power department, but he showed Sunday that he hasn't given up on taking pitchers deep. His first-inning grand slam started the White Sox on their way to a 7-5 victory and a series win over the Toronto Blue Jays.
Gillaspie is far from power obsessed, though. Instead of trying to add the power element now that he is settling into an everyday, big league role, he seems just fine being a contact guy who takes the home runs when they come.
"Like I've been [saying] all year, I try not to give away at-bats," Gillaspie said. "It's a bad feeling when you go up there and, for whatever reason, you don't compete or you take an at-bat off. No matter what the results are, that's a bad feeling. I went through it a lot last year, and I've been through it at times this year, so I always try to do my best to do the right thing when I'm up there, and I try to think ahead.
"The home runs are great, but at the end of the day, regardless of what happens hit-wise, if I'm not giving away at-bats, I at least know I'm putting in the effort and I didn't take at-bats off."
What happens with Davidson remains to be seen. He has 19 home runs and 52 RBIs at Triple-A Charlotte but is batting just .205 with a .380 slugging percentage that trails many of his teammates who play every day.
September is coming, and expanded rosters are on the way, but it is uncertain whether Davidson will be a part of the group that gets some big league at-bats over the final month.
The White Sox might prefer to let Gillaspie play out the string so he can have a frame of reference for what it takes to carry success through an entire six months. He is just 48 at-bats shy of his total in 2013 and figures to pass that with ease by the start of September.
If he can finish the season with numbers like his current .363 on-base percentage and .456 slugging percentage, the White Sox will feel comfortable putting Gillaspie in their young core, which includes guys such as Jose Abreu, Adam Eaton and Avisail Garcia.
"I don't worry about that -- I let them make those decisions. But I know that if I go out there and compete and battle and fight, it's hard to do every day," Gillaspie said. "It's hard day in and day out to play nine innings. That's the hardest part of this game, so I feel like the more I can get a grasp on playing every day, the more I can constantly grind out at-bats. I think at the end of the day I can hold my head high regardless of what happens."
Although Davidson was acquired for a proven major league closer, Gillaspie came for the relatively low price of pitcher Jeff Soptic in the 2013 trade with the San Francisco Giants. Even though Soptic has yet to advance past the Class A level, he was a third-round pick in 2011, so there is a good chance he starts advancing in the Giants' system soon.
The White Sox knew Soptic had a chance at major league success even when they made the deal for Gillaspie, but they have absolutely no regrets about the deal at this point.