Chicago White Sox: San Francisco Giants

Rookie Gillaspie enjoying solid start

June, 1, 2013
6/01/13
2:40
PM CT
By Eric Gilmore, Special to ESPNChicago.com
ESPNChicago.com
OAKLAND, Calif. -- In his first at-bat Friday night against Oakland A's right-hander Bartolo Colon, Chicago White Sox rookie third baseman Conor Gillaspie lined a single to center field in the second inning.

Gillaspie hit the ball hard again in the fifth, flying out to center field, and again in seventh, grounding a shot up the middle that A's second baseman Eric Sogard gloved and turned into a double play.

"He probably had the best at-bats," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said Saturday of Gillaspie. "I think what Bart was doing and his approach, (Gillaspie) wasn't trying to do too much. I think that's probably where you get into a little bit of trouble with Bart. You're thinking you're going to hit that first strike he's going to throw. He doesn't necessarily throw that first strike as hard as he can. He kind of locates it, puts a little sink on, so if you're overaggressive you're going to beat it into the ground. He was pretty patient with him, Conor was, and just made sure he got the one he wanted and stayed through the middle. He didn't get a bunch of hits, but the approach and contact is what you're looking for."

The White Sox got only five hits, all singles, against Colon, who shut them out.

"Sometimes it's kind of hard for me to really judge myself," Gillaspie said of his at-bats against Colon. "A lot of these guys have been in the league for so long. I can't say they just throw it in there for me to hit, but I'm probably not seeing the same pitches that (Adam) Dunn and (Paul) Konerko are seeing. As far as last night goes. that's a tough guy to face for right-handers. I don't care who you are. That guy's ball moves as much as anybody I've ever seen.

"I just try to have good at-bats every time. It's not always going to happen. There's games where you don't have good at-bats. There's games where you have good at-bats and they just throw good pitches and you just walk back to the dugout. Every day's a new day. Obviously I think I had a little bit of an advantage just being left-handed. Regardless of how good a hitter anybody is, when you're left-handed it's a little easier to see a guy like that with so much movement. Do my best every day."

The White Sox acquired Gillaspie from the San Francisco Giants in a trade on Feb. 22, 2013, for pitcher Jeff Soptic. He appeared in just 29 career games for the Giants and hit .205, going 9-for-44 with one home run and four RBIs. This year with the White Sox, Gillaspie is hitting .284 (40-for-141) in 47 games with two home runs and eight RBIs.

"Some days I'm pretty pleased, and some days I'm not at all," Gillaspie said. "I guess that's about how everybody is. I've been really working on strengthening the mental side of this game, which I've been just piss-poor at for four or five years, especially when I was out here with San Francisco. Mentally I couldn't do it. Everybody says that mental's a big part of it. It really is. That's a weakness for me, so I really worked hard at being patient and not getting frustrated and just turning the page after every at- at and trying to get them next time."

Easier said than done?

"It is. It's next to impossible some days," Gillaspie said.

Ventura said he's "not really" surprised by Gillaspie's solid start to the season.

"I think early in spring training just watching him go about his business, he has a pretty simple swing," Ventura said. "There's not a lot of movement. It doesn't change very much. It's a pretty direct approach. Again, you could sit there and say, 'Now we're going to go to the next level.' We're just letting him play because there's nothing wrong with what he's doing. I guess I'm a little sensitive about guys, and having seen it over the years, 'Now we're going to take you to the next level.' Well, now it goes in the opposite direction. So let him do what he's good at, let him get confidence with that and go from there. I think defensively he's been improving since we've got him."

Competition could be stiff at hot corner

February, 23, 2013
2/23/13
3:32
PM CT
Levine By Bruce Levine
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The addition of Conor Gillaspie from the San Francisco Giants creates a logjam at third base that should help make the Chicago White Sox a more balanced team going into the 2013 season.

Gillaspie had little chance of making San Francisco’s 25-man big league roster.

"This is a business like every other job in the whole world," Gillaspie said after his first day in Sox camp. “Pablo [Sandoval], as you know, is a pretty good player. I probably wasn’t going to beat him out. This is a pretty good opportunity for me, and I am looking forward to it."

Gillaspie will have to battle newcomer Jeff Keppinger and holdover Brent Morel, who is returning injury-free after battling debilitating back pain in 2012.

The Sox are looking for better balance in their projected lineup. Only Adam Dunn and Alejandro De Aza hit from the left side in manager Robin Ventura’s projected 2013 opening day lineup. Most observers believe that Keppinger, who signed a three-year, $12 million contract this winter, is better suited to play multiple positions, rather than being the every-day third baseman.

The left-handed hitting Gillaspie, who is out of big league options, knows he has a chance to win a spot on the Sox roster.

“This could have been a lot worse," he said. “It could have been that I didn’t have a job at the end of spring training. On both sides I am very thankful that it happened the way it did. Now I can meet new people and have an opportunity to make another club. From what I have been told, [lefty-hitting infielder] is kind of a need. I’ll do my best to try to earn a job. You have to earn it; no one will be giving you anything."

Gillaspie, 25, hit .281 at Triple-A Fresno in 2012, with 14 home runs and 49 RBIs in 108 games. The White Sox were drawn to his on-base numbers and improved defense.

“As a player, I don’t have a superstar tool," said the newest member of the Sox. “I am not going to be someone who goes out and hits 50 home runs. That is just not who I am. I definitely will work and play hard for you. I practice hard and try to play the game the right way. Whatever happens at that point, you have to really roll with it."

The former Giants infielder has worked hard on his overall game the past couple of seasons.

“Three or four years ago, I was kind of shaky," Gillaspie said. “I have worked really hard on [my defense]. I hope that work will pay off for me the older I get and the more chances I get."

Yesterday's journeymen become 2012 stars

June, 9, 2012
6/09/12
8:12
PM CT
By Christina Kahrl, ESPN.com
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
Bryan LaHair Benny Sieu/US PresswireBryan LaHair, 29, is in the top five in the National League in slugging, OBP and OPS.


At 28 years old and after spending much of the previous five seasons in Triple-A, Bryan LaHair was a purportedly “known” quantity -- Quadruple-A bat, perhaps a fill-in first baseman. In his one brief shot at The Show in Seattle in 2008, he split time at first base with utilityman Miguel Cairo and Jose Lopez. He didn't shine, and it was back to Tacoma the next year. In short, he seemed a man doomed to a dim star on an obscure walk of fame to be named later, perhaps in Tacoma, maybe in Iowa.

He changed that in his sixth campaign in the Pacific Coast League, changing the minds of scouts and analysts alike with 28 homers and a 1.070 OPS. And this year, taken seriously for the first time, he's a 29-year-old getting his first real shot at everyday play in the major leagues ... and blowing the league away. He's third in the National League in slugging, fourth in OBP, and fourth in OPS. And all it took to bring him to Wrigleyville was a minor-league contract, after the Mariners let him slip away as a minor league free agent.

By simultaneously shredding expectations and opposing pitchers, LaHair is providing a fine example that players' career paths aren't simply a matter of forecasting off past performance. That works on the macro level, for most players. But whether as a matter of changing their game or finally getting opportunities they'd long deserved, a few past-prime players are making the most of their opportunities this season.

You can't quite come up with a full lineup's worth of these guys, but beyond LaHair, here's my off-the-cuff list of this season's other “surprise stars,” some of whom will belong in Kansas City as full-fledged All-Stars in a month's time.

C A.J. Ellis, Dodgers: Say what you will about catching always being in short supply -- and it isn't -- Ellis had to wait until this year to get a clean shot at a catching job. Now 31, he's pretty much the perfect example of an organizational soldier: He spent his first two full seasons after getting picked in the 18th round out of Austin Peay as a backup at High-A, caddying for Russell Martin and then Edwin Bellorin (once upon a time a well-regarded Venezuelan prospect).

Ellis finally became a regular in Double-A in 2006. From the start, he showed tremendous ability to get on base, but the Dodgers kept him at the same slow pace, as he spent two years in the Southern League and two years in the PCL before graduating to two years as a big-league backup. That sort of long-form apprenticeship that seemed certain to lock him into little more than membership in the International Brotherhood of Backup Backstops.

Perhaps only taken seriously as a starter as a matter of grudging last resort this past winter, when the market offered slim pickings as far as catching help, Ellis is second only to Yadier Molina among NL catchers in his production at the plate while throwing out 41 percent of opponents' steal attempts. Ellis might be this group's best bet beyond LaHair to be headed to Kansas City for the All-Star Game.

SS Mike Aviles, Red Sox: It has been a bumpy road for Aviles since his old-rookie debut as a 27-year-old with the Royals in 2008. In K.C., he had to contend with injuries and the idea that he wasn't really a shortstop. This year, shortstops are putting up the collectively lowest OPS (.678) or OPS+ (88), so Aviles' .711 OPS/90 OPS+ clip is just a wee bit above average, not shabby considering he's also doing fine at short according to advanced fielding metrics. Beyond buying time for Jose Iglesias, this has proven a relatively high-yield, low-expense gamble for the Sox: League-average shortstops usually cost millions on the market, but Boston got him for an organizational arm (Kendal Volz) and Yamaico Navarro, a utility player so interesting that K.C. flipped him to the Pirates, who have already ditched him in Indianapolis.

CF Alejandro De Aza, White Sox: If LaHair is the slugging surprise of the season, De Aza is the out-of-nowhere leadoff solution most teams need. Back in 2007, he got an opportunity with the Marlins, leading off on Opening Day, but injuries to first one ankle and then the other derailed that season and the next. In 2009, he gave the first indication that he wasn't just going to be a speed guy, slugging .506 for New Orleans; the Marlins were so impressed they let him slip away on a waiver claim by the White Sox. Finally getting a shot at everyday play as a 28-year-old in the one-hole, he's hitting .299/.381/.425 and he's holding his own in center. Juan Pierre never looked this good, but a crowd of quality center fielders in the American League will keep De Aza from All-Star status.

OF Gregor Blanco, Giants: Melky Cabrera isn't the only Giants outfielder having a season well beyond anything he's done before. A Braves prospect they lost interest in, he was dealt to the Royals, who dealt him to D.C. before the Nationals ditched him. All he's ever done is get on base; he just needed an opportunity. He got one when general manager Brian Sabean fished him off the discard pile this past winter. Pushing his way past Nate Schierholtz, Blanco has hit his way into everyday play in right field and the leadoff job with a .387 OBP as a 28-year-old journeyman. Blanco may rival Sabean's “discovery” of Andres Torres in 2009 before all's said and done.

RF Justin Maxwell, Astros: Nobody has doubted Maxwell's power or talent, but his ability to stay healthy has been an annual concern. The Nats decided they had better uses for his spot on the 40-man and traded him to the Yankees, but he spent more time on the disabled list in 2011 with a bum shoulder than he did in pinstripes. The talent-hungry Astros snagged the 28-year-old off waivers this spring, and he's been a free-talent find as a fourth outfielder, providing power against lefties and strong-armed defense.

SP Jerome Williams, Angels: Back in the day, Williams was a top prospect in the Giants organization, ranking in Baseball America's top 20 for all baseball. That all seemed merited after a fine 2003 rookie season in which he drew an NL Division Series start for them against the Marlins. It was almost unrelentingly downhill from there; he needed elbow surgery in 2004, got dealt to the Cubs in 2005, and then bouncing through the Nationals, Twins, A's (twice) and Dodgers organizations, as well as a stint in the independent leagues. After making a nice impression on the Angels down the stretch last season, the 30-year-old Williams is getting regular rotation work in the majors for the first time in seven years as their fifth starter. More of a finesse righty these days, he's been an exceptional salvage-project success, putting up eight quality starts in 10 turns, far better work than most teams reasonably expect from a No. 5.

Quite simply, what these guys reflect is that not all replacements are “replacement level.” Just when you think you know what a player is capable of, a happy few beyond their expected peak age of 27 have demonstrated the delightful capacity to surprise and exceed the modest expectations even their fans harbored for them. I don't know about you, but I like these kinds of surprises -- here's hoping we see more of the same from all of them.

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BA LEADER
Jose Abreu
BA HR RBI R
.317 36 107 80
OTHER LEADERS
HRJ. Abreu 36
RBIJ. Abreu 107
RA. Ramirez 82
OPSJ. Abreu .964
WC. Sale 12
ERAC. Sale 2.17
SOC. Sale 208