Bob Lutz

September 18, 2011

New Gillaspie a bigger, yet lighter model

Conor Gillaspie knew the question was coming, he just didn't know when. And sure enough, it did.

Conor Gillaspie knew the question was coming, he just didn't know when. And sure enough, it did.

"How does your brother (Casey) compare to you?" I asked.

Keep in mind, Gillaspie is playing with the San Francisco Giants at the moment. He was a September call-up from Triple-A Fresno, where he had a fine season, batting .297 with 11 homers and 61 RBI. During his career at Wichita State, Gillaspie batted .362 and was an All-American third baseman.

But he doesn't have his little brother's size. Casey, a WSU freshman, goes 6-foot-4, 230 pounds. He is a first baseman, not a third baseman. He doesn't have Conor's determined scowl or the chip-on-his-shoulder intensity that drove his brother.

"People are probably going to compare to me (Conor),'' Casey said during an off day from fall workouts. "I just go out there and do my own thing. We're different baseball players. It's kind of easy for me not to put pressure on myself.''

Whereas Conor had that motor that never allowed him to ease up, Casey is an ambler. He doesn't get too caught up in things, he says, and knows how to keep things in perspective. He never appears to be in a big hurry.

"If you know my brother, you know he's a pretty big head case,'' Casey Gillaspie said. "But he's a lot better nowadays. He's adapted really well to pro ball.''

Conor, 24, has steadily moved up the ranks since being picked as a supplemental first rounder (No. 37 overall) in 2008. He says he has learned to stop putting pressure on himself to perform, instead letting the game just happen.

"I'm not anything like I was when I was in college,'' he said. "You can't be like that when you play this many games. You have to take a chill pill.''

Casey Gillaspie has never swallowed one of those. He's always viewed the game as a game and appreciated his talent to hit. The guy is a hitter. He's not worried about what position he'll play, he just wants to get in that batter's box and go to work.

He's probably not going to play much first base in 2012, what with Johnny Coy returning to the lineup. But there's a good chance Gillaspie will get a lot of at-bats as a designated hitter and perhaps some as a corner outfielder. Those who have seen him take his swings in fall drills are impressed.

Like Conor, Casey wasn't recruited by Nebraska even though the family has long made its home in Omaha. That's OK, he wouldn't have gone to Lincoln anyway.

"I don't like the Huskers,'' he said. "My parents do. But I kind of got it from my brother to hate the Huskers. He likes Oklahoma and I like Wisconsin, because I was born there.''

Casey Gillaspie didn't hesitate to become a Wichita State baseball player, even though he knew the comparisons to his brother would come with him.

A new Gillaspie on the team, so soon after the other departed, excites Shocker fans. Conor Gillaspie was a key part of Shocker teams that reached super regionals in 2007 and 2008. Wichita State hasn't been to one since and failed to reach NCAA postseason play in two of the three years since Conor Gillaspie left.

"I used to come to three or four games here a year when my brother played,'' Casey said. "I just liked the atmosphere in (Eck Stadium). And I've always heard good things about the coaching staff and how they help get you to the next level.''

Conor wasn't a big professional prospect when he arrived, but three years at Wichita State turned him into one of the top draft picks in the country.

Casey is a switch-hitter; Conor batted from the left side. Casey has that killer size that makes the ball jump off his bat.

"That was pretty much luck of the draw for him,'' Conor said. "I don't know why he got so big but I'm sure it's advantage for him when it comes to projecting at the next level. It would have been nice get some of that size, but everybody is different and I've made what I have work.''

Perhaps it's because Casey is more naturally gifted that he hasn't felt the need to push the envelope like his brother did. Conor grinded through every at-bat and every play in the field. It sometimes was painful to watch, especially when he failed. And baseball is a game of failure.

"I like to get hits as much as the next guy,'' Casey said. "But I try not to throw water coolers across the dugout when I don't. I'm pretty much the opposite of my brother. You'll learn that pretty quick.''

In temperament, yes. But Casey would love to be as productive as Conor was as a Shocker. His .362 career average ranks as the 14th best in WSU history and he batted .419 as a junior in 2008.

"All I'm trying to do now in pro ball is go out and get better,'' Conor said. "You get to this level and being intense and focused all the time only gets you so far. Once you get to Double-A and up, it's about talent. I've made good use of what I've had, but when you compare me to guys in the big leagues, I'm probably pretty average across the board. But there are plenty of guys like me who have played 10-12 years in the big leagues.''

Casey has a chance to be more than that. He has the size Conor, 6-1, 180 pounds, doesn't. He's a switch hitter with power to all fields from both sides of the plate.

So, Conor, how does your brother compare to you?

"Boy, I knew you were going to ask,'' he said. "I don't want to put pressure on the kid. I was good at Wichita State because I thought I was better than everybody. He's going to be good at Wichita State because, talent-wise, he is better than everybody. He's got 10 times the talent I do. As long as he stays out of trouble and works hard, you're going to see a pretty good player in the next three years.''

Consider the pressure applied. Something tells me, though, that the laid-back Gillaspie brother can handle it.

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