GOODYEAR, Ariz. - Ask the Toronto Blue Jays' Brett Lawrie who he thinks Canada's breakout player will be at the World Baseball Classic and he'll say it's Tyson Gillies.
Gillies is set to bat lead-off for Canada, giving the 24-year-old Philadelphia Phillies prospect a spotlight Lawrie said is overdue.
"I really think that Tyson Gillies hasn't had an opportunity in the big leagues yet but I feel like he's a player that has a lot to contribute to the game," said Lawrie, who played with Gillies with on the Langley Blaze youth team and on the national junior team. "He flies, he's got a great arm, he puts the ball in play, he runs, he steals, he does a whole lot."
Gillies earned his spot at the WBC after helping Canada advance in qualifying in September. But working up through the Phillies' minor-league system has been difficult for the Vancouver native.
The six-foot-two, 205-pound centre-fielder hit .304 with four home runs, 24 RBIs and 59 runs in 68 games with Reading last season, but was sidelined for nearly seven weeks with a concussion while continuing to endure a re-occuring hamstring injury.
Gillies played just three games in 2011 with a sprained left hamstring and a foot injury. But he said the hamstring feels good now thanks to a new stretching program, and he's learning when to tone down the intense game that sometimes gets him into trouble.
"Me, I like to go 100 miles an hour everywhere every day, and playing 140-plus games is kind of hard to do that," said Gillies. "So I got to be able to learn how to pick my spots and know when I can go full bore, and know when, look, I don't need to (play hard) right here because there's nothing going on in the play."
Getting to the majors has proven to be difficult for Gillies.
In 2010 he was arrested for cocaine possession in Clearwater, Fla., but the charges were dropped when the Florida State attorney's office decided there wasn't enough evidence to pursue the case. Then last year, Gillies was suspended after a confrontation with a team bus driver.
Gillies, who bounded onto the outfield at Canada's camp with a grin on his face, is trying to move on from that.
"If you know me, like I'm going to keep working, if I have failure I'm going to keep working, if I have success I'm going to keep working," he said. "So I'm just going to go out there, not to put too much pressure on myself and hopefully have some success my way too."
Gillies, who recently signed a major-league contract with the Phillies, isn't sure where he'll end up next. He is hoping to be assigned to triple-A Lehigh Valley, but a full season with Reading is a more likely bet.
Even if Lawrie is right and Gillies shows he can dominate on the international stage, Gillies said he isn't thinking past the WBC. Right now he just wants to help Canada win. The future can wait.
"The only thing that I'm worried about right now with this is us having success, winning, hopefully moving onto the second round and that's the only thing I'm going to think about right now," he said.