McEwing knows Keppinger's value

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- When Joe McEwing sustained a season-ending broken left fibula on a collision at second base in late August of the 2004 season, it was Jeff Keppinger who replaced McEwing on the Mets' roster.

So the energetic White Sox third-base coach is very familiar with the new White Sox third baseman.

"I know what type of player he is. He's a grinder," said McEwing of Keppinger, who made his Major League debut as part of the Mets. "He's done an outstanding job throughout his career fielding at second, short and third. He's done a great job so far this spring."

Keppinger has been billed as the ultimate contact hitter, a player who admits that he would cry when he struck out as a Little Leaguer. He also has great defensive versatility, having played 307 career games at second, 178 at shortstop, 152 at third, 35 at first and five in the outfield.

McEwing strongly believes that Keppinger can play everywhere across the infield, including shortstop. He also feels that Keppinger can make the move from super sub to the team's everyday third baseman.

"The more reps you get over the years, the more comfortable you become, and he's moved around throughout his career," said McEwing of Keppinger, who has never played more than 67 games at third in a single season, but played 50 for the Rays there in 2012. "You could tell he's comfortable in any situation."

Conor Gillaspie appears to be a reserve option at third, a left-handed-hitting complementary player to Keppinger, as general manager Rick Hahn described him at the time of the trade with the Giants. But McEwing also has worked at helping Gillaspie improve his defensive play.

Terming it as just a minor tweak in his footwork, McEwing has tried to square up Gillaspie and get him in better position to throw across the diamond to first base.

"He was fielding the ball off of his left side, and open," said McEwing of Gillaspie. "It took a lot for him to get his feet back underneath him and square up to his target.

"We just tried to square him up a little bit defensively so he's going to his target and his momentum is going to his target. He wants to learn. He's very receptive to everything. He's worked his butt off and every day in ground balls, he's very conscious of it. He's going a great job."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.