Phillies prospect Gillies working hard in Fall League

Tyson Gillies feels the pressure of not producing since being acquired by Phils in deal that sent Cliff Lee to Seattle.
Tyson Gillies feels the pressure of not producing since being acquired by Phils in deal that sent Cliff Lee to Seattle. (DAVID M. SCHOFIELD)
Posted: November 17, 2011

PHOENIX - The two Phillies gathered in the stands behind the dugout before an Arizona Fall League game. It appeared that Ruben Amaro did most of the talking. Tyson Gillies sat at attention, his back straight and eyes never deviating from the executive whose celebrated tenure overseeing the Phillies seemingly includes only one blemish: trading Cliff Lee for a package of three prospects that included Gillies.

When the Phillies sent Lee to the Mariners upon acquiring Roy Halladay in December 2009, the move was supposed to help replenish a farm system decimated by the Halladay deal and original trade for Lee the previous summer. Gillies was touted as one of the two headlining prospects, a 21-year-old centerfielder who batted .341 and stole 44 bases in a full season in high Class A ball.

Two years later, this is what the Phillies have: a 23-year-old who has been limited to only 31 games in two seasons because of injury and has struggled at the plate. In 2010, he was charged with cocaine possession - those charges were quickly dropped - but the Phillies have not exactly received the return they hoped for 2 years ago.

"Right now, I'm more concerned with just getting him on the field," Amaro said. "It's been 2 years since he's had the chance to play consistently. It's just important for him to feel comfortable and feel healthy. He's starting to feel that, and still trying to get his stroke together."

Gillies' issues started when a hamstring injury was misdiagnosed in 2010, when a misaligned hip and groin were putting extra strain on his hamstring. During his second game back near full health in 2011, Gillies stepped on a first baseman's foot and suffered a deep bone bruise and ligament injury.

He admitted it has been "one thing after another," although the hamstring injury was resolved once there was more clarity about the nature of the ailment. Now his challenge is making up for the at-bats he's missed the past two seasons.

"Playing's the biggest thing," Gillies said. "Going out there and getting reps and trying to get back to where I was, and figure out who I was in the box before I got hurt, how my swing felt and everything. But it's a tough thing to get back to, you know? You try to make things click, but my bat's been slow right now."

The Fall League, which is a collection of some of baseball's top prospects, provided Gillies with an opportunity to play and to face elite minor league pitching. That's why Amaro and other key executives were in Arizona to scout the Phillies players; the GM took the time to speak to Gillies before a game one afternoon. Both Gillies and the team's brass are paying little attention to his statistics - "I couldn't even tell you what he's hitting," said assistant general manager Benny Looper, which is a good thing, because Gillies is batting .179 and has more strikeouts (24) than hits (15). Of more importance to Gillies are the mechanics. He's worked on placing his foot down earlier in his stride, which he attributed to his Fall League struggles but a tactic he believes will help as he becomes more comfortable.

By placing his foot down earlier, Gillies said he's seeing the ball earlier and the ball appears bigger. This requires patience, particularly allowing the ball to get deeper on him. He pointed to an at-bat against 2011 No. 1 pick Gerrit Cole when Gillies made good contact on a near 100 mph fastball and flied out to centerfield. It appears as an out on the stat sheet, but the contact displayed his potential.

Gillies also has installed a stringent flexibility and muscle recovery program to stay healthy. He pointed to what veteran players do during spring training and has already implemented those tactics into his daily routine. The key has been temperature contrast - going in both the cold tub and hot tub. He rolls his legs on a softball to loosen his hamstrings and works with exercise bands. He learned new breathing techniques to ensure his body is aligned.

"Up until the time we got him, he really wasn't hurt that much," Looper said. "He's real tightly wound, so you're going to have a muscle problem if you're not stretched out. Stepping on the foot, that's something that happens. I wouldn't call him injury prone, even though he's missed a couple years. The main thing is to keep those muscles stretched out."

But Looper acknowledged that Gillies is behind in his progress considering the injuries came at a ripe time in Gillies' development, slowing him to the point that it's difficult for the organization to make a clear evaluation. Looper remains encouraged by the commitment Gillies is demonstrating, best exemplified by the outfielder moving to Clearwater full time from Vancouver so he can continue to work at the Phillies' complex during the offseason.

Gillies is savvy enough to know the pressure he's under because of the pitcher the team traded for him. That's why he has made a commitment not just to reach his potential, but also to validate the price Amaro and the organization paid in 2009.

"It's really hard on them, and you've got to look at their perspective, too," Gillies said. "With the trade and everything, it's a hard thing to deal with. But they've been patient."

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