Catching up on the recent baseball news, I noticed this week that Chicago White Sox third baseman Conor Gillaspie is hitting .352/.394/.461 with 12 doubles in 128 at-bats for a wRC+ of 136. A hot start obviously, granted that the sample size is small and his playing time has been reduced by a hand injury and a sore Achilles. But .352 stands out nonetheless and begs some explanation.
As you'd expect his BABIP is elevated at .409 and it does not seem likely that he'll sustain such a mark through a full season. However, I don't think it is a total fluke.
Gillaspie does have pedigree as a prospect: he was a three-season star at Wichita State University, with a terrific '08 season (.419/.500/.697 with 38 walks and just 22 strikeouts in 234 at-bats) that made him a supplemental first round pick. In the summer of 2007 he won the batting title and the MVP Award in the wooden-bat Cape Cod League. His pure hitting skills were greatly respected and the main questions revolved around defense and how much home run power he would show.
He has good bloodlines: his father Mark was a very good Triple-A hitter who deserved a big league trial but somehow never got it. Conor's younger brother Casey Gillaspie is a top prospect in the 2014 draft and a likely first rounder next week following his own devastating spring for the Shockers.
Gillaspie hit .245/.305/.390 with the White Sox last year, so the .352/.406/.461 mark this year looks out of context. However, in the broader perspective it does fit his career. His complete big league career line is now .266/.324/.398 in 580 at-bats, with 27 doubles, 14 homers, 52 walks, 103 strikeouts, and a wRC+ of 95. The career line is exactly what you'd expect given his minor league numbers: in the minors he hit .286/.357/.420 including .287/.365/.447 (wRC+ 109) in 853 Triple-A at-bats. Applying a typical major league equivalent adjustment would get you right around .265/.325/.400.
In other words, the entirety of his major league career (small cups of coffee in '08, '11, '12, plus his full season in '13 and his fast start in '14) adds up to exactly what his minor league numbers say it should be.
The question: what happens now?
He's entering his theoretical career prime, the age 26/27/28 window. Can he build on his "established talent level," stay hot, and raise his career line into the .280/.340/.420 area perhaps? I don't think he is going to hit .352 all year, but however he gets there, I do think that in the long run he can be a .280 hitter with moderate power, not a star but a solid contributor.