The White Sox addressed their need for a left-handed-hitting infielder today, by acquiring 3B/1B Conor Gillaspie from San Francisco in exchange for the Sox’ #24 prospect, RHP Jeff Soptic. At its core, this is trading a lottery ticket for a current need. But let’s look a little more in-depth at each of the players involved.
What did the Sox lose? Here is what our profile of Jeff Soptic says…
Soptic fits the mold of pitchers drafted by the White Sox in recent years: a hot fastball with a big frame and not much else. The Sox took Soptic in the third round in 2011 and were able to sign him despite a commitment to play college ball at Missouri. His fastball sits in the mid 90s with reports of triple digits, but Soptic will need to give it some movement. The right-hander also throws a slider and a change, but neither pitch is anywhere near as good as the fastball. Jeff barely pitched for Bristol in 2011, so 2012 was his first real pro season. In 27 relief appearances, he missed plenty of bats (.176 AvgA, 36 K in 43.1 IP), but he also walked 29. The walks are preventing him from dominating as he should, and he needs to get some degree of consistency with at least one secondary pitch to be effective.
Guys who throw 100 don’t grow on trees – it isn’t something you can teach. The Sox, much like the Giants, have had this approach with pitchers for while now; get pitchers with serious raw velocity, and try to teach them control and offspeed stuff. Occasionally, it works. Nate Jones is a good example. But more often, it doesn’t. You draft a few of these arms a year, and hope one pans out every so often. At age 21 and only going into his 3rd year of professional ball, Soptic has time to develop, and he may get there.
The flip side of this is, if a lottery ticket can help you potentially address a hole on the current roster, then the team managed to get some value before he even got to the higher levels of the minors. That in itself is a success from that draft pick.
And who did they get? Conor Gillaspie, 1st round supplemental pick in the 2008 draft, who signed early for slot money in return for a draft-year September call-up (1-for-5 plus 2 walks). The funky contract comes into play now, because he is out of minor league options – if he doesn’t make the Sox roster for Opening Day, he has to pass through waivers to be sent down.
After his draft year show, in 2009-2010 at A+ and AA he posted solid averages (.286-.287) and got on base at a good clip (.364-.335) but showed minimal power (12 HR in two seasons). In 2011 in the hitter-friendly AAA Pacific Coast League, he posted a .297/.389/.453 line, and earned a brief promotion to the big club (.263/.333/.421 in 19 AB). 2012 in his second year of AAA was much the same, a little more power but a little lower average, and another brief call-up (where he struggled with 3 hits in 20 at bats).
So what is the picture now of this 25 year old? He’s had consistently good contact rates, and his hit tool has played well at all minor leage levels. His power tool hasn’t shown a lot, but it has improved a bit as time went on (11 HR in 2011, 14 in 2012). He shows a good batters eye with high Iso OBP values. He plays solid-average defense at third, and has played some first, which gives Ventura some options to work with.
His left-handed-ness makes him complementary to Jeff Keppinger, and allows more flexibility on the infield. The line drive, high contact, low power hitting style of the two are even pretty similar. But it all hangs on this question: can he translate the hit and on-base tools to the majors this time? If so, he’s certainly worth the long shot that is Jeff Soptic.