San Francisco Giants Riding the Pine: Conor Gillaspie
Conor Gillaspie returned to the San Francisco Giants organization last offseason a changed man, ready to fulfill whichever role required his services. Gillaspie etched his name into San Francisco baseball history in his first postseason, but a spot on the bench is far from guaranteed in 2017.
With two swings of the bat, Conor Gillaspie became a postseason hero for the San Francisco Giants, but the third-baseman who delivered clutch hits last October is far from the man who the franchise drafted nearly a decade ago.
San Francisco selected Gillaspie with the 37th overall pick on June 5th, 2008 but the Giants rushed him to the big leagues only three months later due to a verbal agreement which stated the team would promote Gillaspie in September when the rosters expanded.
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As a 20-year-old with only 24 minor league games under his belt at the time of his debut, Gillaspie couldn’t gain acceptance from teammates who believed he did not earn the promotion. After Gillaspie had told the media he would not struggle in transitioning to major league pitching because he excelled at all levels, one veteran called him out on the team bus.
The first-round pick had his cup of coffee, playing eight games with the big league club, but he wouldn’t suit up for the San Francisco Giants again until 2011, playing for San Francisco’s farm system in the meantime.
Gillaspie played 21 total games for the Giants in 2011 and 2012 after climbing through the minors, receiving a World Series ring for playing in the latter of the two seasons.
With Pablo Sandoval and Brandon Belt occupying both corners of the infield, Gillaspie’s chances of starting were virtually nonexistent and on February 22nd, 2013, the San Francisco Giants traded Gillaspie to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for Jeff Soptic.
The trade was a blessing in disguise for Gillaspie. Not only did he fill Chicago’s vacancy at third base, but he had a chance to start fresh with a new ballclub. As a starter, Gillaspie finally found his footing in the major leagues, slashing .265/.322/.404 with 20 home runs and 97 RBIs in two full seasons with the White Sox.
The former Wichita State Shocker couldn’t find the same success in his third season as a starter and was designated for assignment by both the White Sox and the Los Angeles Angels. He finished 2015 with an OPS of .627 and a wRC+ of 67 in 75 games, his lowest totals since joining the White Sox.
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Gillaspie’s career came full circle after signing a minor-league contract with the San Francisco Giants in February of 2016. He initially started his season with the Sacramento River Cats, but San Francisco promoted him as injuries plagued the team.
Nine years after San Francisco drafted him, Gillaspie returned to the Giants after a few seasons growth, no longer the brash rookie from his first time around with the team. Gillaspie played solid off the bench during the regular season, but he built his legend in October.
In the Wild Card Game against the New York Mets, Conor Gillaspie broke the scoreless tie in the top of the ninth inning with a three-run home run against Jeurys Familia, propelling the Giants to a 3-0 win which sent them to the NLDS.
His heroics carried into the next round against the Chicago Cubs, launching a 102 MPH fastball into Triple’s Alley off Aroldis Chapman, giving the Giants a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the eighth inning of Game 4.
Gillaspie’s clutch hitting completed his redemption story and he’ll likely never have to pay for another meal in San Francisco for the rest of his life, but the third baseman will still have to compete for a spot on the bench.
Over 1464 career plate appearances, Gillaspie has an OPS of .706 and a wRC+ of 93, both of which are slightly below-average. He has some pop in his bat as well, clubbing 30 home runs in the past four seasons, but not the same power exemplary of the traditional third baseman.
The 29-year-old isn’t the most defensive minded third baseman in the league with a career UZR of -18.9 and an RZR of .673 over 2903.0 innings at the hot corner, both of which indicate Gillaspie’s glove leaves much to be desired. Despite shaky career totals, he fielded well for the Giants last season with a UZR of 4.0 and an RZR of .767 in 304.2 innings.
Eduardo Núñez will likely remain the team’s starting third baseman barring an otherworldly spring by Christian Arroyo, meaning Gillaspie will once again take on the role of a reserve.
Kelby Tomlinson and Ehire Adrianza beat out Gillaspie last season, and they may do the same once again this season. Tomlinson’s offensive production and Adrianza’s slick glove are both valuable commodities, and excluding either one from the Opening Day roster seems unlikely.
San Francisco will likely have three infielders on the Opening Day roster, and assuming Tomlinson and Adrianza nab the first two spots, Gillaspie’s primary competition will be Jimmy Rollins.
Rollins still has much to offer as a ballplayer, namely his veteran presence. At 38, Rollins will realistically continue to regress, and his numbers in the past couple of seasons do not tell otherwise, but 17-year veterans with Rollins’s leadership don’t grow on trees.
Another veteran leader is not of utmost importance for the San Francisco Giants considering their core has matured and players like Hunter Pence already fulfill that role.
That said, while Rollins may not need to lead the entire team, he can take Tomlinson and Adrianza under his wing as he would spend time with them on the bench. As a four-time Gold Glove winner with 470 career stolen bases, he has plenty of knowledge in areas which could elevate their games.
Next: Riding the Pine: Tim Federowicz
If the competition for the final infield spot come down to Gillaspie and Rollins, the San Francisco Giants will need to determine whether they value Gillaspie’s projected on-the-field production or Rollins’s positive veteran influence.