Shockers' Gillaspie following in brother's footsteps
Baseball America's Golden Spikes Spotlight
When Conor Gillaspie was a junior at Wichita State in 2008, no player in college baseball was more intense. That spring, former Shockers coach Gene Stephenson said Gillaspie was driven to achieve perfection every day, and it was a good sign that they finally got him to smile on occasion so he didn't let his fire consume him. Off the field, Gillaspie would talk your ear off, and he wasn't shy about telling you he was just as good as the top players who grew up in warmer climates. He had a huge chip on his shoulder, and he embraced it.
His younger brother, Casey, is a junior at Wichita State now, and he is following in Conor's footsteps by putting up All-America numbers on the heels of a standout summer in the Cape Cod League (where Conor was the 2007 MVP). He has a chance to be drafted even higher than Conor was (37th overall), and in a few years he could join Conor in the big leagues.
So the Gillaspie brothers have plenty in common -- but not their personalities.
"I think anybody that knows us both would tell you that we're complete opposites," said the mild-mannered Casey Gillaspie. "As far as competitiveness for baseball, I think we both are the same. We both want to be winners, we both want to be great, and we're both going to work to be that good. He'll take the game a little more seriously, and he'll be the first one to tell you that. I like to kind of be more laid back when I play."
Casey is perfectly willing to let his bat do most of his talking -- and it makes plenty of noise. Through 39 games, the switch-hitting first baseman is hitting .401/.506/.694 with 10 home runs and 41 RBIs. He ranks fifth in the nation in slugging percentage, fifth in on-base percentage, seventh in home runs and 14th in batting average. He had a strong weekend in Wichita State's sweep of Southern Illinois, driving in two runs Friday, collecting two hits including a homer on Saturday, then going 3-for-4 with two more RBIs on Sunday.
At 6-foot-4, 238 pounds, Gillaspie is bigger than his older brother (who now plays for the Chicago White Sox), and he is a fearsome presence in the heart of Wichita's lineup.
"I've been coaching 24 years," first-year Shockers coach Todd Butler said. "I've had big leaguers, All-Americans, I've been fortunate to coach in the SEC for 16 years. As far as a hitter, with discipline, power, a switch-hitter, with his size, I think he's one of the elite hitters in college baseball. And also just the makeup, his character, the person that he is -- he is such a good player."
Strong character isn't the only thing Gillaspie picked up from his parents, Mark and Diane. Mark was an All-American at Mississippi State who played professional ball. He was also a switch-hitter, and he taught Casey how to excel from both sides.
"It changes day-to-day which side I feel most comfortable with," Gillaspie said. "But in my opinion, I'm just as good from the left or right side."
He also credits his father for teaching him a disciplined approach at the plate. After posting 62 walks and 35 strikeouts as a sophomore last year, Gillaspie has 31 walks and 18 strikeouts this year. As the focal point of the Wichita offense, he gets pitched to carefully, but he has done a fine job staying within himself.
"It's kind of stressful for a coach, because I can't steal, I can't bunt a guy to second in front of him, because they'll walk him," Butler said. "And he goes up there and every day he shows up. He gets pitched extremely tough. He sees changeups, curveballs, and they try to buzz him with a fastball in and he hits it. He does things that you talk about as a coach that you just can't get other players to do. He's that special."
Like his older brother, Gillaspie's defense is less advanced than his bat, but he has worked hard on that part of his game, like Conor did. He is fielding .994 this spring, and though he'll never be a particularly rangy first baseman, scouts have remarked that he looks much better at the position than he did in the past.
"I think in time he's going to be an outstanding first baseman," Butler said. "I think he's going to be very good. He's taken a lot of pride in it. I've talked to him about how his defense needs to elevate. He's really taken it seriously; he's a tireless worker. I think that stamp on the defense, as time develops, I think they'll take that stamp off of him. I think he'll be a very good defender at the next level. He is a winner."
Read more from Aaron Fitt's weekly Three Strikes column.