The landscape of the MLB All-Star Game has been in the process of a major makeover for over a generation now. Once commissioner Bud Selig decided that the Midsummer Classic would determine home-field advantage in the World Series, managers in charge of the All-Star teams have been selecting the players to play in the game in a much different way than years past.
Gone are the days when just the players with the most home runs or the most wins are taken. Now everyone from the utility infielder off to a hot start (Omar Infante) to the lefty specialist who is unhittable in the first half of the season (Matt Thornton) are selected. Managers do not just want to take the players with the best statistics, but also the ones who give them the best chance to win. With this mindset in place, Chicago White Sox third baseman Conor Gillaspie should be considered a candidate to be a part of Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell‘s squad in July.
Browsing through the league leaders in batting average, Gillaspie’s name does not appear because of the few weeks he missed with an injury. While he may not have accumulated enough plate appearances to be officially included in that list, it does not diminish the excellence of his early performance.
Through 33 games this season, Gillaspie is hitting a remarkable .355 with an OBP of .399. At a position in which the Sox have not seen much production since Joe Crede‘s glory days, the third baseman has been all the Sox have expected and more.
When the White Sox acquired Gillaspie at the beginning of the 2013 Spring Training, they expected the San Francisco Giants castoff to compete with Brent Morel and Jeff Keppinger for the starting job. A Morel-Gillaspie-Keppinger three-way platoon was established until Morel’s back problems and Keppinger’s lack of production took them out of the mix. Because of this, Gillaspie saw an increase in at-bats and ended the season with an average of .245, 13 HRs and 40 RBIs in 134 games.
While Gillaspie’s first full season in the majors was not awe inspiring, it showed that the Sox had a viable offensive option at third who displayed he had the ability to provide some pop in the lineup. So far in 2014, Gillaspie’s power has not been on display (zero homers), but he has revealed that he is now a more polished hitter.
In 2013 Gillaspie hit a meager .159 against lefties with only one homer and five RBIs in just 66 plate appearances. The Sox showed little faith in the left-handed batting Gillaspie against southpaws toward the end the year as they ran a struggling Keppinger out there instead during those match-ups.
So far in 2014, it has been a different story. Gillaspie is batting .310 against left-handers while showing more patience at the plate. He has clearly been more comfortable in the box and has shown an ability to turn on inside pitches, which led to his struggles last season.
Plugged into the three spot in the order this season, Gillaspie has provided the steady presence the team needs at the top of the lineup. He has become a concrete bridge between catalyst Adam Eaton and the big bats of Jose Abreu and Adam Dunn. During games when the Sox are struggling to put balls in play, Gillaspie has given them the spark that they need.
He is a prodigious reason why the team finds themselves at the top of the league leaders in almost all offensive categories. While the pitching continues to struggle, ranked last in all of baseball in ERA, Gillaspie has played a large part in the offense picking up the slack and making the ball club competitive.
Nowadays All-Star rosters are filled with players who give their league the best chance to win, whether they have the star power or not. Fans still have a say by voting in their favorite players to start. However, it is up to the managers to select players to deliver a clutch hit in the ninth and have proven that they could do so by displaying consistency during the first half of the season. Through the first month and a half of the 2014 campaign, Gillaspie has been as consistent as it gets.