Rick Hahn continues his complete tear down of the 2017 major league roster, striking again Thursday morning to send left-handed reliever Dan Jennings to the Tampa Bay Rays. The return is a name that White Sox fans should recognize – Casey Gillaspie is the more highly touted younger brother of former White Sox Conor Gillaspie.
Casey Gillaspie was drafted 20th overall in the 2014 draft out of Wichita State thanks to his sweet swing from both sides of the plate and an advanced approach. He quickly established himself in 2015 when he hit 17 home runs over just 79 games before a hand injury robbed him of the rest of his season. The following season proved to be his best, as he tore through AA Montgomery and AAA Durham, combining to hit .284/.388/.479 with 18 home runs. After the impressive 2016 campaign, Baseball America ranked him as the 74th best prospect in baseball and he seemed prime to join the Rays at some point in 2017. Unfortunately for Gillaspie, this season has been a nightmare, as he has slashed .227/.296/.357 at AAA Durham and to add injury to insult, he currently is on the disabled list with a broken toe.
Gillaspie is a switch-hitter, but has put up better numbers with a more fluid swing from the left side. He has average bat speed, but has a short, compact swing with tremendous strength to compensate. At 6’4”, 240 pounds, he has plus raw power and has shown the ability to control the zone and barrel up hittable pitches. Gillaspie has shortened his swing continuously (especially from the right side) as he has ascended the Rays system by nearly eliminating any movement in his pre-swing load. He swings from a idle position, which some scouts believe is impacting his barrel control and his ability to catch up to more advanced velocity.
Video courtesy of Eric Longenhagen (Fangraphs) on Youtube
Scouts and talent evaluators have often lauded Gillaspie’s plate discipline and pitch recognition. He consistently goes deep into counts and is very patient at the plate, drawing walks at a consistent clip throughout the minors. Despite this approach, which leads to many two strike counts, Gillaspie has maintained his strikeout rate to roughly 20% throughout his career.
Gillaspie is a well below average runner, but soft hands and smooth footwork give him enough to profile as an average defender at first base. He is not considered to be a good athlete (relative to his baseball cohorts).
Going into 2017, Gillaspie was a top 100 prospect who was considered to be a potential middle-of-the-order power bat with strong on base skills. However, his results this year have been disastrous and has scouts questioning if he has the bat speed to consistently hit higher level pitching. To illustrate, from the Baseball America Midseason Top 10 Rays Prospects article published just a few days ago:
It has been a disastrous season for Gillaspie both stat-wise and in how evaluators view him. Scouts throughout the game have been searing in their reviews of Gillaspie, citing poor athleticism and no tool even average in their view. Gillaspie has not been able to prove otherwise, with his feel to hit and power production completely muzzled from both sides of the plate.
If he can make the necessary adjustments to return to his 2016 numbers, the White Sox got a steal for a reliever who is not in their long term plans. Gillaspie is certainly a lottery ticket.
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