Tyson Gillies was not a high round draft pick, nor was he a highly rated prospect heading into the 2009 season. But that hasn’t stopped him from establishing himself as one of the most exciting players in the minors. His speed is game changing and he plays as if his hair’s on fire. But there is one thing holding him back from reaching his ceiling of a solid everyday outfielder: his power.
Gillies’ swing is very simple, geared toward his two biggest strengths – line drives and amazing speed. Starting wide with a medium crouch, Gillies maintains good balance and leverage in his setup and throughout his swing. He has good weight distribution, aiding in his balance.
His timing mechanism is a simple hip cocking mechanism. He lifts his front foot very slightly and simultaneously cocks his front hip by turning his knee inward before quickly getting his front foot back down. This helps him keep his weight back and prepares him for a quick unload into the ball. Now that he starts in a deeper crouch than earlier this season – more on this later – Gillies is a bit mechanical. But he isn’t stiff and doesn’t have any forced movements.
Quick and Compact
Gillies is a super quick twitch athlete with very quick hands. He’s very good at fighting off tough pitches and uses his hands well to make solid contact. Some slashing-type hitters are fine with dropping flares just over the middle infielders’ heads, but Gillies is not one of them. As you can see in our video, he is adept at hitting line drives. He generally stays up the middle and away to left-center, but can turn on a ball when needed.
He starts with the bat already in a vertical position, and is very short and direct to the ball. Since the bat is already vertical, there’s no wasted movement into the hitting zone, allowing him a longer time to judge the ball before launching his swing. Gillies uses his top hand well and keeps the bat in the zone for a long time. He’s very calm in his swing, and doesn’t jump or lunge at the ball.
Just Find A Way On
Gillies has very little head movement in his swing, allowing him to see the ball deep into the strike zone. Rarely does he get onto his front side early, which robs him of precious milliseconds to judge the ball. He’s a very good bunter and is willing to take a walk. Gillies has posted strong on base percentages at both of his extended minor league stops (short-season and High-A), furthering his status as a possible top-of-the-lineup table setter. He’s had success hitting lefties and righties through 450+ plate appearances this season, so there are currently no platoon red flags.
As I touched on earlier, Gillies has made some minor refinements in his swing since Spring Training (visible in the video below from ksimm10391). He was taller in his set-up and started with his hands higher and closer to his head. He had a bit more forward momentum and flicked his wrists at the ball. His power would solely come from the velocity of the pitch and the quickness of his swing. There was a slightly larger upper body loading pattern but there wasn’t a lot of raw bat speed produced in that swing.
Now that he’s in more of a crouch and starts with his hands lower and closer to his rear shoulder, Gillies is able to produce a bit more bat speed without sacrificing swing quickness. He still has very little power, but it’s a good sign that he is willing to make adjustments. The newfound bat speed and leverage may have brought his floor up to that of a No. 4 outfielder.
The California league has a history of inflating power numbers, especially in High Desert. Gillies’ .401 BABIP is certainly helping his numbers as well. While the 6-foot-2, 190 pounder’s swing may not project for much improvement down the road, that isn’t to say he can’t continue adjustments.
Gillies has focused on limiting his head movement, but doing so has limited his body’s forward movement. This affects his upper body’s ability to resist and get a full stretch before he launches his swing. His quick and minimal stride is the culprit. He stays on his back leg well, but doesn’t get a lot of forward momentum into his swing.
An Area to Improve On
Take note in our video where Gillies hits what I’m guessing was an off-speed pitch of the end of his bat foul. This is common in hitters who have little to no forward momentum. They don’t get a full stretch and aren’t able to hold back their upper body. This causes him to lose a bit of his upper body load.
If he were to stride out just another inch with his front foot, and get a slightly larger upper body loading action, he would get a better X-factor stretch – the angle of separation between his upper and lower body – in his upper body. This would enable him to stay back/resist longer and do more with the pitch he capped. Separation happens when you simultaneously stride out with the lower body and load back with the upper body. This “stretch” helps the body have a quick and effortless change of direction into the hitting zone. Having a minimal stride and lack of forward movement hinders one’s ability to get a full stretch and separation. Gillies doesn't need huge actions here, but better separation would do wonders for his ability to resist and develop useable pop that he hasn't tapped into yet.
A Stronger Bottom Hand
Gillies does use his top hand well, helping him be very quick to the ball. But, if he were to utilize his bottom hand a bit more, he could improve his power. Engaging the top hand early and starting to pull with the bottom hand at the “lag” position – where the body is partially rotated, but the barrel is not yet exposed to the ball – would enable him to be as quick as he is now and still have more force to drive through the ball. Tony Gwynn credits his late career power surge to a conversation with Ted Williams about using his bottom hand more. Perhaps it could have the same affect on Gillies’ swing.
Think of Juan Pierre’s swing. He cocks with his top hand to get the barrel started, then pulls quickly with his bottom hand. This gives the undersized Pierre enough punch to drive the ball into the gaps. A little more pull with his bottom hand, and Gillies could start to produce more power.
Mastering the Lower Body
He could use a better weight shift and a better rear hip load. As of now, he has very little of both. A better rear hip load would improve his shift even more, but it would also tie into what I mentioned about his upper resisting the lower's forward movement. Staying loaded on a rock solid rear leg as you move forward allows the upper to properly stretch/resist and enables one to be quick enough for any fastball, and stay back for any off speed pitch.
If Gillies were to cock his hips by cocking his back hip – the cue is “show your rear pocket to the pitcher”– he would load his rear hip better and prepare for a better weight shift. Currently, he tries to cock with his front knee. Doing so with his back hip would soften up his front side actions helping not only load the rear hip but smooth out his unload. Focusing on cocking the back hip should enable him to easily stride out the one more inch that is needed, and allow him to maintain a solid rear hip load as he moves out.
Gillies stays on his back leg well, but does not do a good job of getting off it. A firmer rear hip thrust combined with a better upper stretch and slightly more bottom hand utilization could make Gillies an annual 20+ doubles and 4-6 home runs a season hitter.
Gillies simply has to continue hitting line drives and using his speed to get on base. He's a rare speedster who can turn any base hit into an extra-base hit in the blink of an eye. If he can improve his doubles power without sacrificing his strengths, he could become a very solid regular. Gillies’ power total will determine if a Dave Roberts type is his low end upside, or if he will reach his ceiling of a Juan Pierre with patience.
I'll take this moment to say that everyone here should root for this guy. Not because he's hearing impaired, but because he is a fantastic human being and doesn't let his physical shortcomings get in the way of him being a fine baseball player.