SCOTTSDALE — This isn’t how Conor Gillaspie was supposed to check into Giants camp this week. If all had gone according to plan, the 28-year-old would have been a cornerstone of the best young infield in baseball, the third baseman playing alongside 29-year-old Brandon Crawford and 90 feet away from fellow high draft pick Buster Posey.
Instead, Gillaspie, the 37th player taken in the 2008 draft, walked into Scottsdale Stadium as a non-roster invitee. Matt Duffy, an 18th round pick, is the present and the future at third base. Gillaspie is here to try and win a job on the bench of a team that once viewed him as a future star — and that doesn’t bother him one bit.
“I’m lucky to be here,” Gillaspie said Sunday. “I’m super excited to get a chance to try to leave a more positive impact on people here, and I’m looking forward to that more than anything else. This is a familiar setting for me — a lot of the same staff, front office, even a lot of the same players. If my role is to be in Triple-A and come up and help, at this point, I’ve got a family and I’m 28 years old, and you know what, sometimes that’s life. Life’s not always fair.
“I’ve got no problem with being a bench player, I’ve got no problem with being in Triple-A. I don’t have a problem really with anything anymore.”
That obviously hasn’t always been the case for Gillaspie, and it’s the reason he’s coming back to the Giants, not continuing his original run with them. Gillaspie never stuck in the lineup or in the clubhouse, rubbing teammates the wrong way at times before a 2013 deal to the White Sox. He was open and honest about those years while addressing the media on Sunday, admitting that he had a lot of growing to do physically, mentally and socially.
“There have been a lot of clubs that have had their bad apples and guys that you can’t approach and you can’t talk to, and I was one of those guys at one point,” he said. “I’m looking forward to turning that around.”
Gillaspie is eager to look forward, not back, but he said he had to learn his boundaries in the clubhouse after a surprise 2008 call-up just months after the draft. That never fully happened in San Francisco, and it didn’t help that he hit just .205 in parts of three seasons for the Giants. Gillaspie turned his career around by hitting .282 with a .752 OPS for the White Sox in 2014, and said he made even greater strides off the field. Getting traded ended up being a huge positive. He needed a fresh start.
“We could get into all the what-ifs of seven or eight years ago. The reality is, looking back on it, I think it was good for me,’” Gillaspie said. “I had to learn quickly and I learned very fast how off I was on certain things. If I could go back and do it again, I probably would have done it differently.”
During his time in Chicago, Gillaspie tried to take after veterans like Paul Konerko, Adam LaRoche, Gordon Beckham and Jake Peavy, who is again a teammate. He said he tried to be a better teammate and someone other players wanted to talk to. Part of the maturation process was a natural one; getting older helped Gillaspie, and he credited a 2010 marriage and the birth of his son, Mason, for pushing him along.
“Your window of playing is so small that you want to build every relationship you can, because you never know when that might help you down the road,” Gillaspie said.
While he didn’t do that with the Giants, the club didn’t hold a grudge. Gillaspie said he talked to four or five teams after a disappointing 2015 season, and he “felt really blessed by the opportunity” when the Giants called. The opportunity on the field is a good one, too. Kelby Tomlinson and Ehire Adrianza are the top candidates to be backup infielders, but Gillaspie has a shot this spring to win the job behind Duffy.
“He gives us experience and depth,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “He gives us some versatility. Third base, first base, a left-handed bat — we’re going to look at him this spring. He had a hell of a year (in 2014).”
Gillaspie has six weeks to try and prove his worth on the field, but he said the work in the clubhouse will be just as important.
“The way I felt in here my first time here was not who I was,” he said. “Most people may argue that but that’s really not who I am, it just took me a while to figure out how to portray that to guys.”