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updated: 12/10/2012 11:28 PM

Keppinger fits White Sox' needs

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  • Jeff Keppinger, who was with the Tampa Bay Rays last season, will fill an infield void for the White Sox.

    Jeff Keppinger, who was with the Tampa Bay Rays last season, will fill an infield void for the White Sox.
    Associated Press


If you're curious as to why Jeff Keppinger has been an everyday player only one year in eight major-league seasons, look at the back of his baseball card.

Don't waste too much time on the career numbers, which reveal a solid .288/.337/.396 hitting line.

Look up a little higher, and stop when you get to the height and weight.

At 6-feet, 185 pounds, Keppinger often was overlooked during stints with the Mets (2004), Royals (2006), Reds (2007-08), Astros (2009-11), Giants (2011) and Rays (2012).

"Tools-wise, I don't have the tools for this game," Keppinger admitted on Tampa Bay's team website last season. "But the mental aspect of the game, I think gives me the edge.

"That's what helps me stick around, and that's what makes me successful. I understand the game and I understand certain aspects of it.

"I understand I'm not the most powerful guy when I'm getting into the batter's box. So swinging for a home run every single at-bat is dumb.

"I'm not a home run hitter; there's no sense in trying to drive it. Just sit there and try to get on base and let the guys who do drive the ball do their thing."

While the physical tools are lacking, Keppinger has been a survivor because he successfully has developed his baseball skills while bouncing from one team to another.

The 32-year-old infielder finally found a landing spot with the White Sox, officially signing a three-year, $12 million contract Monday. Keppinger gets $3.5 million this season, $4 million in 2014 and $4.5 million in 2015.

When the Sox open the 2013 season April 1 against the Kansas City Royals at U.S. Cellular Field, Keppinger is likely to be starting at third base.

"At this time, he certainly plugs what was a hole for us," general manager Rick Hahn said. "But he has the flexibility and versatility to allow us to be creative with some other options as the off-season unfolds and into the next couple of seasons."

Keppinger has played 307 career games at second base, 178 at shortstop, 152 at third base, 35 at first and five in the outfield.

"I've played a lot of different positions throughout my career, so I kind of feel comfortable at all of them," he said. "Wherever they want me to play, I'm good with it."

With Alexei Ramirez set at shortstop and fellow University of Georgia all-American Gordon Beckham back at second base for the White Sox, Keppinger is the obvious option to replace free agent Kevin Youkilis at third.

With 41 home runs and 255 RBI in 701 career games, Keppinger doesn't have the prototypical power found in most American League third baseman.

That's not necessarily a bad thing, considering Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko, Alex Rios and Dayan Viciedo all are adept at clearing the fences. And there's still a possibility catcher A.J. Pierzynski (career-high 27 HRs in 2012) returns next season.

The Sox faded down the stretch last season and blew a 3-game lead in the AL Central with 15 to play, partially because they stopped hitting for power.

Keppinger has consistently put the bat on the ball throughout his career, and he was the toughest hitter to strike out in the league last season (31 in 418 plate appearances).

Look for the right-hander to hit second behind Alejandro De Aza.

"I like the 2-hole," Keppinger said. "I hit a lot in the 2-hole with Houston and San Francisco. I bounced around last year because (Rays manager Joe) Maddon uses so many different lineups. It really doesn't matter where I hit.

"I like to hit; it's mainly why I like to play baseball. Hitting is really fun for me, and hitting in the 2-hole, I like the challenges."

Keppinger had a career year at the plate with Tampa Bay last season, posting a .325/.367/.439 hitting while adding a career-high 9 home runs and 40 RBI in 115 games.

Given his all-around talent, it's little wonder teams like the White Sox, Yankees, Cubs and Twins were after Keppinger.

"It's the team that they've got and the city," Keppinger said of his decision to sign with the Sox. "I really like Chicago. I've been there a bunch, playing against the White Sox and playing against the Cubs.

"I really liked that city, and I thought it wound be a good fit for me with the length of the contract I've got."

Keppinger broke his right fibula in early November after losing a battle with his home staircase.

"I thought I just rolled my ankle and sprained it," Keppinger said. "I was wearing flip flops coming down the stairs and slipped. I thought I could catch myself and I just didn't land right."

Keppinger said he will shed the walking boot he has been wearing on Tuesday and expects to be 100 percent when spring training starts.

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