Rays reach deal with first-round pick Gillaspie
College slugger drafted out of Wichita State eager to make way to big leagues
ST. PETERSBURG -- On the night the Rays selected Casey Gillaspie with the 20th pick of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft, Rays scouting director R.J. Harrison noted that the sooner Gillaspie signed and got into the organization, the better off he would be.
Gillaspie obviously took that sentiment to heart as he signed a deal with the Rays on Tuesday.
"It's good, I'm excited about it, I'm able to relax a little bit and I wanted to come here and sign early so I can get going and start my career as a professional baseball player," said Gillaspie as he addressed reporters outside the home dugout at Tropicana Field.
The switch-hitting first baseman from Wichita State will receive a bonus worth $2,035,500, which is equal to the assigned value of the slot.
Signing quickly "says a lot about the player," Harrison said. "This is not the end game for him, being a first-round pick and, you know, what comes with being a first-round pick. He wants to be a big leaguer. We were having lunch today and that's all he talked about. He just wants to get out and start playing his way to the big leagues."
Gillaspie, the younger brother of White Sox third baseman Conor Gillaspie, batted .389 with a .520 on-base percentage and 15 home runs in 59 games as a junior. Gillaspie is the 14th Wichita State player to be drafted in the first round, and he was named the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year.
When asked his short-term goals, the easy-going Gillaspie smiled.
"Just get better," he said. "Do whatever the coaches ask me in the Rays organization. Take every day and get better and do whatever they ask me to do."
Rays scouting director R.J. Harrison said Gillaspie "sticks out," noting that there were three college sluggers in the Draft who stood above the rest and "we got one of them."
"And he's a switch-hitter," Harrison said. "It's probably more of a natural loft stroke from the left side. And more of a direct swing from the right side. This is a really strong man. This is not a kid we're waiting for strength to catch up. He's 6-foot-5, 240 and he's some kind of put together. ... He's made the way you want a big leaguer to be made."
Gillaspie's father, Mark, is a former All-American outfielder at Mississippi State and he played professionally, reaching Triple-A. He encouraged Casey to become a switch-hitter at the age of 8.
"His father played up at Triple-A," Harrison said. "It's a baseball family. He can draw off his brother's experience. I just think it's a real good baseball family."
Tim Beckham, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 Draft, is the last Rays first-rounder to reach the Major Leagues. Gillaspie won't say when he hopes to reach the Major Leagues, but he did allow that it would be "cool" to have a chance to play alongside or against his brother in a Major League game.
Gillaspie will depart for New York Wednesday morning where he will begin his professional career in Short Season Hudson Valley playing rookie ball. Harrison said the biggest adjustment Gillaspie will face is playing every day.
"Having to go to the ballpark every day," Harrison said. "Do the work they do every day. Play every day. That's a big adjustment. And they're playing against good competition every day. You don't get that Sunday pitching like you get in college sometimes."
Playing baseball every day is easier to face when you eat and breathe baseball and are equipped for everyday play, like Gillaspie seems to be.
"That's what Todd Butler, the coach at Wichita State, told me the other day," Harrison said. "He said [Gillaspie] has the perfect disposition for playing every day, 0-for-4 doesn't eat at him. He's ready to go the next day. ... And he really, really loves playing the game."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.