READING, Pa. -- Sometimes a guy needs to take a step back in order to move forward. Other times, a man needs to have something taken away from him in order to have his eyes opened.
By now one would assume that Phillies outfield prospect Tyson Gillies would have figured all of that out. After a brush with the law, a spate of injuries and a suspension, it would seem that Gillies would understand not to take anything for granted.
But sometimes a guy gets into a slump.
At least that’s what happened to Gillies during the first month of the 2013 season. Following a well-publicized stint with Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic, in which Gillies started alongside major league All-Stars Joey Votto of Cincinnati and Justin Morneau of Minnesota, the 24-year-old opened the season with his first stop at Triple A.
It didn’t last long.
“It hit me and it surprised me to be back here so soon,” Gillies said. “But I’m going to make the best of it. It’s not like there’s easy pitching down here, either. I’ve seen a lot of great arms down here and I can still get better as a baseball player.”
Gillies batted just .148 with 13 strikeouts in 18 games for Triple-A Lehigh Valley. This came after he went 0 for 14 for Team Canada in the WBC and played a prominent role in a brawl with Mexico. Or, as Gillies called it, “some Canadian bonding experience.”
Still, the brawl didn’t project a great image for Gillies, who has been arrested for cocaine possession -- the charges were dropped for lack of evidence -- and was suspended after an altercation with the team bus driver. Gillies also is legally deaf, though his handicap is unnoticeable to those not in the know.
However, in the sixth inning of Wednesday night’s game against Altoona at FirstEnergy Stadium, Gillies was doubled off first base on an infield pop up. Running on the pitch to Edgar Duran, Gillies never heard the crack of the bat. By the time he realized that the ball was in play, Gillies was sliding into second with what he thought was a stolen base.
But it’s hitting and not base running that Gillies has focused on this season. A strong finish to the 2012 season following a promotion to Reading paved the course to Triple A.
Now he’s back at Reading looking to find his stroke.
“I’m trying some things hitting-wise,” Gillies said. “I'm trying to generate more power and hit to the left side of the field. But this has been the slowest start of my career.”
His manager at Reading, Dusty Wathan, says Gillies has to focus on his hitting mechanics.
“He’s done a pretty good job. The one thing he has to stay away from is getting that front side open,” Wathan said. “That’s when he has a tendency to roll over balls to the first-base side. When he keeps that front shoulder in he can drive the ball.”
Though he says he is notorious for his slow starts, Gillies was demoted to Double A Reading. At first he was upset about not being able to stick with Lehigh Valley, but quickly saw the demotion as an opportunity.
“I’m really slow, but not this slow,” Gillies explained. “I usually take a while to adjust to pitching and getting my eye and seeing the ball well.”
Gillies went 1 for 4, reaching on an error and a single Wednesday night to lift his average to .246 since joining Reading. In the last 11 games, Gillies is 10 for 33 (.313), hitting mostly from the leadoff spot. Hitting at the top of the order may have re-energized Gillies a bit, but there are still many parts of his game that need work.
Though he has lots of speed, Gillies is 5 for 8 on steal attempts and just 1 for 3 at Reading. He also misplayed a fly ball at the warning track into a two-out RBI triple. For Gillies, acquired in the deal that sent Cliff Lee to Seattle, there is plenty of raw talent.
The trick is going to be for the 24-year-old to hone it before he’s no longer considered a prospect.
“He has all the tools and it’s all there,” Wathan said. “He just has to trust himself.”