Speedy Gillies could be The Next One
* CF Tyson Gillies (Langley, BC) will hit lead off for Canada and some think he could be poised for a break-out session in the WBC. ….
By Todd Devlin
There is no shortage of well-known talent in the lineup Team Canada will feature against Italy in its opening game of the 2013 World Baseball Classic on Friday. That group includes major league all-stars Joey Votto, Justin Morneau, John Axford and Brett Lawrie, who left Wednesday’s game with a “tweak in his side.”
The man expected to see the first pitch of the tournament for Canada, though, does not fall in that category. On the contrary, Tyson Gillies, a minor leaguer in the Philadelphia Phillies system, is not a household name.
But that may change in a hurry.
Manager Ernie Whitt will entrust the leadoff spot to the speedy Gillies on Friday, and Canadian ball fans may witness a coming out party of sorts for the Vancouver-born outfielder.
Gillies served in the leadoff spot at the WBC qualifier last fall in Regensburg, Germany, and the 24-year-old thrived as the table setter in those three games, batting an even .500 (7-for-14) with a triple, a home run and five runs scored.
“He’s a prototypical leadoff hitter who can really run,” said Greg Hamilton, Baseball Canada’s director of national teams. “He’s got the potential to impact the game with his speed and with his energy level, which he brings to the field in everything he does, both defensively and offensively.”
And he seems to be the consensus pick among his Canadian teammates to be a breakout player at this year’s WBC event. Lawrie, a fellow British Columbian and former teammate with the Langley Blaze, voiced his praise for the speedy outfielder this week. As did Jimmy Van Ostrand, who got a firsthand look at Gillies’ talent last fall at the qualifier.
“He can change the game in so many ways with his speed,” said Van Ostrand, who himself had a big qualifier, leading all hitters with four home runs and 10 RBIs. “He’s a tough out, and then when he gets on base he just creates havoc. They always say speed never slumps, and he’s got speed to burn.”
Interestingly, the qualifier was Gillies’ first time playing for Canada’s senior national team. His job there was to get Canada back into the WBC for 2013, regardless of who would wind up making the WBC roster.
“We knew going into the qualifier that it was going to be really tough for us to make this squad, but we knew we had to pass the torch,” Gillies said. “We had to go out there and win for the other guys, because that’s what it’s all about.”
Gillies’ performance at that qualifier helped to not only solidify a spot on this month’s WBC roster, but also earn him a starting role on a team filled with plenty of major league talent. But while the 24-year-old outfielder has yet to move past Double-A, Hamilton says he’s confident in his leadoff man.
“He’s not going to be overwhelmed by it,” Hamilton said. “He’s been around these types of guys, he’s been to big-league camp, he’s been to the Futures Game, and he’s had some international experience.”
Gillies says his approach to this month’s World Baseball Classic will be no different than in any other event.
“My mindset is the same,” he said. “Every pitch, every out … you have to have high intensity. That’s the way I am. I’m going to go out there and work hard and support the team in any way I can.”
That’s the way he’s played throughout his career since being drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 25th round in 2006. And it’s translated to plenty of success in the minors. As a 20-year-old in 2009, the speedy outfielder hit .341 at Class-A High Desert and finished near the top of several offensive categories during that season, which included a trip to the Futures Game.
There, he teamed with fellow Canadians Rene Tosoni, Nick Weglarz and Lawrie in St. Louis, and wasted no time showcasing his speed, dropping down a bunt single in the third inning and then stealing second and third before scoring.
Following the 2009 campaign, Gillies was involved in a trade that sent him, fellow Team Canada member Phillippe Aumont and J.C. Ramirez to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for Cy Young award winner Cliff Lee.
But since joining the Phillies, Gillies has unfortunately had a hard time staying on the field, as he has suffered through nagging hamstring and foot injuries. Last year, he missed nearly seven weeks with a concussion. When healthy, the 24-year-old batted .304 with 13 doubles, 24 RBIs and 59 runs scored in 68 games at Double-A Reading.
Injuries, meanwhile, aren’t the only thing the outfielder has had to overcome. He’s dealt with a hearing impairment not only for his entire career but for most of his life.
Gillies is legally deaf, and he wears hearing aids in both ears. He was diagnosed at two years of age after getting away with some impressive lip-reading skills up until that point. The outfielder says the impairment has played a significant role in his drive to succeed.
“I always wanted people to look past my disability,” he said. “So I worked and worked, and I gave them something else to talk about.”
Now, people are talking about him being a breakout player for Team Canada in this month’s World Baseball Classic. But for his part, the 24-year-old outfielder says his focus is entirely on doing whatever he can to help the red and white get past the first round in the WBC for the first time.
“Hopefully I can make some things happen and score some runs,” he said. “It’s all about the team … just putting on the leaf and being able to help the team and help out the guys. That’s the most important thing for me.”