After a pitstop in Seattle with the Mariners, Gillespie caught on with the Miami Marlins in 2015 and had the best season of his career, hitting a potent .290 with a .333 OBP. In 2016, he never saw consistent playing time and in 2017, ventured outside the States, and outside the majors, in two different stops.
Over the offseason, the 33-year old Portland, Oregon native signed a minor league deal with the San Diego Padres.
I talked to Gillespie about his new stomping grounds, his first professional season outside of affiliated ball, his thoughts on the direction of his former Marlins ball club, and the constant mixups he faces with fellow big-league veteran —and former teammate— Conor Gillaspie.
On 2017, not playing in affiliate ball, and splitting time between Mexico and Independent ball...
“I started the season out in Mexico. For imports out there, they have pretty high expectations I guess, and basically look for the long ball from position players. I had good numbers across the board, just wasn’t hitting home runs, so they let me go.
“I took a couple weeks off to see if my agent could find anything out in affiliate ball. When nothing came about, I saw an old teammate signed with the Sugar Land Skeeters, Scott Maine, who I played with in the Diamondbacks organization. I saw he had signed out there so I got in contact with him. He put me in touch with the manager and at that point, I definitely wanted to finish up the season with still two-three months left, so I went down there and was glad I did. It was a good experience.”
Independent baseball setting...
“It was very similar in some levels to the minor leagues. It was a real nice stadium there. Travel kind of reminded me of the PCL (Triple-A Pacific Coast League), where you’re waking up early in the morning and flying out to go travel and play that same day. Being in Sugar Land, we were the only team in Texas. Everyone else was pretty much in the Northeast so I think we were the only team that flew.
“Playing in the PCL over the years, I was used to that travel. Nevertheless, those travel days are kind of exhausting. But you just grind it out. Like I said, they had a nice complex there. They had good clubbies, food accommodations and everything. They did a good job. It reminded me of a Double-A or Triple-A level.”
Signing with the Padres...
“It took a while. After the 2016 season, where I was up in the big leagues half the season with the Marlins, looking back on it I knew that was one of my worst seasons professionally but at the same time, I had only had about five starts in three months while I was up there. So I was mainly just pinch hitting every once in five days, so it was kind of tough to get in a groove. But I was still anticipating having offers the following year.
“Last year, when I wasn’t getting anything in the States, I had to look to Mexico and that was kind of an eye-opener for me. This year was kind of the same thing in the offseason. I have an agent but I had him give me a list of numbers from the teams I had been with over the years where I had relationships with the GM’s and Assistant GM’s and whatnot. I called about as many teams as I could just to let them know I definitely still want to continue to play.
“This past offseason I was working with a new hitting coach, which I had never really done my entire career. But I felt like working with this guy, he had gotten me in a position where I never felt that good as a hitter. I definitely wanted an opportunity somewhere to showcase that. I did a few workouts this summer, one with the Padres and one with the Rangers. I’m fortunate enough that the Padres gave me an opportunity this spring.”
Last big league team, Miami, and their eventful 2017-18 offseason...
“Well, with new ownership coming in, obviously there was something that had to be done there. I know fans don’t ever want to see a rebuild or to start from scratch. I always felt that they were a few arms short, basically, of being really competitive. I felt that way in 2015 and in 2016 as well. The position-player talent there was definitely there. But obviously, [Derek] Jeter and his group decided to go in a different direction.
“They have brought in a lot of young talent, and I was kind of hoping in the back of my mind that that would be an opportunity for me to relocate back there since I’m familiar with them and get an opportunity. Obviously, they’ve decided to go with the prospects and some of the kids they got in trades with all the moves they made, giving them opportunities, which I understand. I kind of remember that when I was coming up. As a prospect, they want to see what you can do first and give you every opportunity possible. There’s no hard feelings but I was hoping something could work out there over the winter.”
Cole Vs. Conor Gillespie/aspie...”can I have your autograph, Conor?”
“That happens more than I’d like to admit. We came up around the same year, so I played against him in the minors. In 2013, we were actually in the Giants organization in Spring Training at the same time. Obviously, that got quite confusing among the fans, the coaches, the staff, guys with the laundry, getting stuff in each other’s lockers. He got traded to the White Sox so it was short lived but it was pretty confusing at the time.
“I still get, quite often, where fans will come up and ask me, ‘hey Conor can you sign my card?’ And I’ll look at it and it’s a third base glove, guy for the White Sox, a team that I’ve never been with...I take it all in stride, there’s no hard feelings but it definitely gets crossed up with fans quite often.
“Most recently in the spring, a fan asked, ‘Conor can I get your autograph?’ I said ‘yeah, that’s not me, sorry man.’ He asked, ‘well didn’t you play for the Giants?’ and I’m like ‘no, I did, but that’s still not me.’ It happens. Fans that aren’t dialed in all the time, they’ll get crossed up like that.”