Inside the Phillies: Tyson Gillies starting to resemble prospect Phillies thought he was

Reading's Tyson Gillies rips the ball against the visiting Trenton Thunder on Wednesday.
Reading's Tyson Gillies rips the ball against the visiting Trenton Thunder on Wednesday. (               YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 19, 2012

READING, Pa. - A concussion after a violent outfield collision with a teammate sidelined him for 6 1/2 weeks.

A leg injury shortly after his return triggered an emotional outburst directed at the team bus driver that led to a team-imposed suspension that cost him two more weeks.

Welcome to the best season of Tyson Gillies' Phillies career.

No, really, it's true.

Yes, the above statement is mostly a reflection of how poorly things went for the centerfielder in his first two seasons with the organization, but this has also been a year of renewed hope and expectations for Gillies.

"Other than the concussion and not being able to do anything for 61/2 weeks and my leg faltering a little bit because I wasn't in condition, I felt like I've slowly started to feel like myself again at the plate," Gillies said before a recent game at double-A Reading.

During that game, Gillies demonstrated the kind of ability that the Phillies were sure he had when they acquired him as part of the December 2009 trade that sent Cliff Lee to the Seattle Mariners.

As the R-Phils' leadoff hitter against the New York Yankees' Trenton Thunder affiliate, Gillies slapped a two-strike pitch down the third-base line for a double in the first inning and reached on a bunt base hit in the third, scoring on each occasion.

"He can be an everyday centerfielder and a leadoff-type hitter," Phillies assistant general manager Benny Looper said.

The endorsement from Reading manager Dusty Wathan was even stronger.

"There is no doubt in my mind that if he progresses like we expect him to, and from what I've seen in short spurts, he can be an everyday centerfielder in the major leagues for a championship team," Wathan said.

It is the short spurts that must end.

A left hamstring injury limited Gillies to 28 games in 2010, the year in which his most notable event was being arrested for cocaine possession during his rehab in Clearwater. The charges were dropped 49 days after they were filed, but the public stigma never easily fades away.

If 2010 was bad, Gillies' 2011 season was worse. A variety of injuries cost him all but three games. The Phillies displayed their belief in the centerfielder by protecting him on the 40-man roster.

"I think what people forget is that he's still young," Wathan said. "It's not like we're talking about a guy who is 30 years old. He's still got a lot of time to play this game, so I think it's a matter of getting him out there and letting him do his thing."

Gillies turns 24 on Oct. 31, so there is plenty of time for him to develop into a big-league player, which is exactly what appeared to be happening when he collided with teammate Jiwan James in late May.

"It was one of those line-drive plays and I went diving for it," Gillies said. "James was running . . . I called for the ball, but it was too late and we just ran right into each other. My face went right into his thigh area and I lost 61/2 weeks. Things were going good, too. I was really comfortable then and I felt really great. That was the hardest part about being out. I just wanted to rush back and not lose that feeling."

Instead, he experienced all the worst symptoms of a concussion.

"Yeah, it was tough to deal with," Gillies said. "I couldn't work out or anything without feeling dizzy and light-headed. I got nauseous. I couldn't do anything.

"When you think you're resting and you want to watch TV in a dark room, you can't do that. You're not supposed to watch TV and you're supposed to stay away from your phone or anything that stimulates the mind. I had trouble driving."

Gillies is legally deaf and at one point he realized that his hearing aides were also causing problems.

"We were trying to figure out . . . why it took so long and it ended up I had to take my hearing aids out also," he said. "I think that is something that prolonged it for sure. It's ridiculously tough to just turn off any sound in your life. I tried to take them out as much as I could, but to talk to people I had to put them in, but I had to turn them way down."

Unable to maintain his physical conditioning during his concussion recovery, Gillies felt some soreness in his right hamstring during his two-game rehab stint at single-A Lakewood. He tried to play through it, but during a game in Portland, Maine, in the middle of July, it became apparent that his leg was not going to hold up.

After the game, he had a heated exchange with the Reading bus driver.

"That was just an emotional thing with me trying to come back for so long and then having to go out again," Gillies said. "My emotions got the best of me. I was just frustrated at the time and I'd like to put that behind me now. I was held accountable for everything."

He was suspended, sent back to Clearwater for another round of rehab and received counseling from Dickie Noles, the Phillies' employee assistance professional who also was by his side shortly after the cocaine possession arrest. Gillies considers Noles a close friend who has helped him get through his turbulent times.

Gillies returned to Reading on Aug. 9 and is hoping to finish out the final month strong. He knows that some people have doubts about his durability and character, but he is determined to prove he can be everything the Phillies thought he was when they sent Cliff Lee to Seattle.

"There are times just being human that you get down on yourself, but I always knew that I was going to be OK," Gillies said. "I think the Phillies have now seen a version of what I can be."

They want to see more and they believe they will.

"He's a good kid," Looper said. "There's no doubt in my mind that he is a good person. He has had some challenges . . . that most people don't have to face. Sometimes when you have to fight through some things you can become a better person and a better player because of it."

Inside the Phillies: Is it Tyson's Time?

Since the Phillies acquired centerfielder Tyson Gillies from the Seattle Mariners as part of the Cliff Lee trade in December 2009, Gillies has shown little on the field to indicate future major-league stardom. But Gillies has had something of a breakout year in double-A Reading. Here are his minor-league stats since the trade:

YEAR   TEAM    LEVEL   G   H/AB   2B   3B   AVG.   OBP

2010   Phillies   Rk   2   1/2   0   0   .500   .750

2010   Reading   AA   26   25/105   2   1   .238   .286

2011   Clearwater   A+   3   2/13   2   0   .154   .154

2012   Lakewood   A   2   2/5   0   0   .400   .625

2012   Clearwater   A+   5   3/17   1   0   .176   .263

2012   Reading   AA   50   57/229   8   6   .285   .363

Key - Rk (rookie league); A+ (high A)

Contact Bob Brookover at Follow @brookob on Twitter.

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