Prior to the 2012 season, Jeff Keppinger was considered a platoon option. As a utility player, Keppinger was considered someone that could hit left handed pitching and play a couple of times a week; a nice bench option, but not someone that should be considered a full time player.
Naturally, all that changed when Keppinger went to the Tampa Bay Rays. There, he became a part of that voodoo that Joe Maddon does so well, producing a career-best .325/.367/.439 batting line, worth an OPS+ of 126. Keppinger continued his usual ability to make excellent contact and draw walks, while providing a bit of pop in the form of 25 extra base hits. He even performed well against right-handed pitching, producing a surprising .302/.352/.403 batting line in 268 at bats against righties, as Maddon did not attempt to hide him.
That performance earned Jeff Keppinger a three-year, $12 million contract from the White Sox, as he was expected to push for the job as the White Sox starting third baseman. Instead, one year after posting a career best season with the bat, Keppinger produced his worst season, posting a .253/.283/.317 batting line, worth an OPS+ of just 62. To put that number into context, Keppinger had a lower OPS+ than such offensive ‘stalwarts’ Aaron Hicks and Jose Molina.
Of course, those struggles could be explained by a fraying in his rotator cuff and labrum which required surgery in September. It had been hoped that Keppinger would be ready for Spring Training, and Opening Day at the latest. Thus far, that does not seem as though it will be the case. Keppinger has stated that the shoulder still feels tight, and he is still unable to make an overhand throwing motion without pain. Instead of potentially battling Conor Gillaspie for the starting third base job, Keppinger may end up starting the season on the disabled list.
In a way, Keppinger’s injury may turn out to be a positive for the White Sox. While Gillaspie’s Spring Training statistics – a .250/.280/.458 batting line – may not look overly impressive, the fact remains that he has appeared more relaxed at the plate than he did last season. At age 26, and with a bit of power potential, Keppinger’s injury woes may have opened the door for Gillaspie to tap into his own potential. Now, if Gillaspie continues to perform at an acceptable level, Keppinger can go back to being a utility player, and could step in if/when Gordon Beckham falters.
Hopefully, Jeff Keppinger will be able to come back to some semblance of the player he was before 2012. In a utility role, that is all the White Sox should really ask of him.