Conor Gillaspie has been covered well by both Jim and prospect guru John Sickels, but I wanted to dig a bit more into his performance so far and see if we can uncover anything about how he'll do going forward.
The knock on Gillaspie coming into this year is that although he's a left handed bat with some discipline, his bat wasn't good enough to offset his shaky glove at 3B. The classic "best position is hitter" type, except without enough hitting to stick as a full time player in MLB.
So far, through both observation and the numbers it seems Conor has turned a corner at the hot corner.
Gillaspie has been worth 1.8 runs above average according to UZR, and although it's a very small sample, we've observed his ability to make spectacular plays ranging to either side. He still isn't the surest handed or strongest armed 3B, but it seems that through hard work, he's turned himself into a solid 3B. He makes most of the routine plays and can occasionally show good range.
I don't think anyone could project him as anything other than a run neutral defender at 3B, even with his improved skillset, but there are plenty of guys in MLB that can field a position but can't hit a lick.
That's not Conor.
So far he's worked a 323/375/538 slash line, good for a wRC+ of 142. Now that's a stew. He's been a bit lucky however, as evidenced by his BABIP of .400. However, Conor is not Adam Dunn, his career MLB BABIP is .306 and his last year in AAA he put up a .339 BABIP.
Using a simple xBABIP (regressed for "luck" BABIP, more accurate going forward than BABIP) calculator spits out a xBABIP for Conor of .339. So regress his line down to 262/314/479. While not nearly as sexy as his current line, in today's 3B depleted, declining offense across MLB environment, that's more than enough to provide value as a regular starter.
One thing to note however is that Conor has turned 17.1% of his FBs into HR. For a non-slugger, that's high. Unsustainable high. At least two of his HRs have been aided by the short porch in RF at Texas Stadium and the winds at the Cell (the night the wind was blowing out hard to right he hit a "just enougher").
His luck with fly balls is evidenced by his updated ZIPS projection: 273/333/418. Expect a few more walks and quite a few less HR from Conor the rest of the year.
Conor is a disciplined hitter. His outside zone swinging percentage is only 21%, nearly 8 points lower than the league average. When he does swing, he's swinging with a bit more oomph this year, as he's only making contact on 76.8% of pitches he offers at, League average is 79.3%. As long as he continues to hit the ball hard when he does make contact (and his HR% on fly balls, while a bit lucky, is also good evidence that he's swinging hard and making solid contact) he'll be fine, even when his HR rate regresses.
It will be interesting how Conor deals with the inevitable BABIP regression. Can he continue to stay disciplined? I think he can, his track record in the minors suggests his patience is no fluke. He's always been a patient hitter with a good eye for the strike zone.
Gillaspie has been lucky to an extent, but even when he regresses he's shown real improvement as an MLB caliber defender at 3B and his platoon advantage as a lefty is a huge point in his favor. Two days out of three he's going to be facing a righty, and so far, he's crushing righties for a 172 RC+.
At worst, it seems the Sox have a guy they can start against all but the toughest LHP and expect solid, 2-3 WAR type seasons.