Along the way to Conor Gillaspie becoming San Francisco's third baseman of the future, Pablo Sandoval got in the way.
“To be perfectly honest, Pablo is a lot better than I am,” Gillaspie said. “What can I do? I can't pray for more talent.”
But thanks to a spring training trade, the 25-year-old Gillaspie, an Elkhorn native and Millard North product who starred at Wichita State, has a chance to become the third baseman of the present for the Chicago White Sox.
Through Sunday, the left-handed hitting Gillaspie is showing that he's got a little bit of talent, too — he was batting .310 with two homers and four RBIs.
After not getting a plate appearance in the opening series of the season, Gillaspie got a couple of starts the following series and has since become Chicago's everyday third baseman, now that second baseman Gordon Beckham is injured. Gillaspie likely would have been splitting time at third with Jeff Keppinger, but Keppinger is playing second with Beckham out for another one to three weeks.
The overall third base picture with the White Sox is much less clear cut than it was in San Francisco, where Sandoval, originally a catcher, has hit .303 with full-season averages of 22 homers and 90 RBIs since getting to the major leagues in 2008.
Gillaspie, drafted 37th overall in 2008, got a big-league promotion in September of that year as part of a deal worked out when he signed, and he also had brief big-league trials in 2011 (15 games) and 2012 (six games).
But despite compiling a .287 minor league average, including .289 over the past two seasons with Class AAA Fresno, Gillaspie never got a shot at regular big-league duty.
Besides Keppinger, Chicago has only one other third baseman on its 40-man roster in Brent Morel. Morel, playing for Class AAA Charlotte, was the regular third baseman for the White Sox in 2011 and the start of 2012 before missing most of the season with a back injury.
Carlos Sanchez, a 20-year-old playing at Charlotte who is considered a potential third baseman, is struggling with the bat and is still playing second base and shortstop.
“I don't know if it's wide open here, but there are some chances for me,” Gillaspie said. “Once Beckham comes back, I'm sure Keppinger will still be playing every day somewhere, but I've got enough confidence that I can still contribute, that I can fill in for guys or come off the bench late in games.”
With Gillaspie out of options — meaning he couldn't be returned to the minor leagues without being put on waivers — the Giants decided to trade him to the White Sox in late February for minor league pitcher Jeff Soptic.
Typically clubs wait until the end of spring training, when other teams have pretty much set their rosters, before trying to slip an out-of-options player through the waiver wire. The trade to the White Sox gave Gillaspie an opportunity to make an impression and earn a spot on the big-league club.
“The Giants were very good to me, and they did me a great favor by making the trade when they did and not waiting until the end of spring training,” Gillaspie said. “In my four years there, I have absolutely no complaints. I learned more in that organization than I had in my whole life playing baseball.”
After acquiring Gillaspie, White Sox General Manager Rick Hahn told MLB.com that the team liked his compact, low-maintenance swing. They knew he isn't typically a home run hitter, but that he has good extra-base power to the gaps. And they liked his work ethic.
“I'll never be a superstar that you can build a club around,” Gillaspie said. “But they did their homework. They knew what I could do and how I could contribute.”
Gillaspie opened the season on a 9 for 19 (.474) tear, with four multi-hit games in his first six starts. His averaged dipped to .317 before hitting a homer April 22 off Cleveland's Justin Masterson — Gillaspie's second career big-league homer and the first one to travel over the fence. He hit an inside-the-park homer on Sept. 27, 2011.
“That was pretty cool, but you can't think too much about it,” he said. “The game moves too fast. And then you've got to go get them the next day. When things happen, you have to take them with a grain of salt because there's so many games to play.”
Gillaspie hit his second homer, off Tampa Bay's Roberto Hernandez, on Friday.
“Not having a left-handed hitter somewhere in the middle breaking up the lineup looked like a weakness,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura told MLB.com. “He's shown he has the ability to do that. He definitely has earned more time somewhere out there, whether it's third or first.”
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