The Chicago White Sox had a very quiet winter this offseason by failing to add a high-profile player. However, General Manager Rick Hahn did add a new piece to puzzle by acquiring free-agent infielder Jeff Keppinger. Keppinger was signed to a three-year, $12 million deal in December of 2012. At first, I questioned the move, hoping the White Sox would add a bigger name. But, based on how the White Sox are currently constructed, Keppinger may prove to be a valuable under-the-radar signing this summer.
By signing Keppinger, the White Sox filled two glaring holes to their roster and lineup. With Kevin Youkilis leaving via free-agency to New York and Brent Morel’s balky back, the White Sox needed a reliable option at third base. With the ability to play multiple infield positions, Keppinger is more than athletic enough to handle the “hot corner”.
Offensively, Keppinger may not possess the power that teams would like from their third baseman, but the White Sox don’t need a ton of power from the position. With Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn, Alex Rios, and Dayan Viciedo all capable of hitting at least 25 home runs, the one thing the White Sox don’t lack is power. Add in the 15-plus homer potential from Alexei Ramirez, Gordon Beckham, and Tyler Flowers and it is easy to see why GM Rick Hahn made the move.
But, amongst all that power comes a lot of strikeouts. Given that, the White Sox were in dire need of a more ideal number two hitter in their batting order. With Alejandro De Aza set to lead off once again, Keppinger should slide in nicely between De Aza and the White Sox 3-4-5 hitters of Rios, Konerko, and Dunn. Keppinger fits the mold as a classic number two hitter because he makes excellent contact. In fact, since 2010, Keppinger boasts the 2nd lowest strikeout rate (6.5%) in the majors behind only Juan Pierre. In addition to making contact, Keppinger has been able to reach base at a respectable rate over his career, highlighted by a career high on-base percentage of .367 last season. During his career, Keppinger also holds a .288 batting average and .337 on-base percentage.
If there was a concern with Keppinger, it would be how he handles being in the lineup every day. Throughout his career Keppinger has rarely been a full-time player, eclipsing 400 at-bats twice, and 500 ABs just once. Given those statistics, it should be interesting to see what kind of production the White Sox will get from their offseason investment provided he gets over 500 at-bats. If that happens expect Keppinger to hit around .290 with 10-15 homers and 50-60 RBIs. Add those statistics with a .340 or better OBP, and the White Sox lineup should prove to be very well-rounded. With a prototypical number two hitter added to the batting order, solid defense, and versatility to play all-over the field, Keppinger should prove to be more valuable to the White Sox than originally thought.
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