Darin Gillies is on the fast track

Former Balers standout Darin Gillies is one of the top pitching prospects in the Seattle Mariners organization.

Ever since the Seattle Mariners selected Darin Gillies in the 10th round of the 2015 Major League Baseball Draft, the former San Benito High standout has made tremendous progress, so much so that scouts and insiders are using the term that all prospects want to hear next to their name: fast track. That’s baseball lingo for a player who is rapidly advancing through the minor leagues en route to the majors.

It’s also a term that Gillies finds rather amusing.

“I’ve always found that fast track comment funny because the only way you get fast tracked is by taking each day slowly and one day at a time,” he said. “It’s a cliché, but the regular season is so long that it tests your ability to slow the game down. You need to attack each day and get the most out of yourself every single day so that in the long run you will get projected into that fast track conversation.”

Gillies is spending his off-season in Arizona preparing for the Arizona Fall League (AFL), of which he received an invitation after a strong season playing for the Arkansas Travelers, the Double-A affiliate of the Mariners. Gillies was one of only two players on the Arkansas roster who received an invite to the Arizona Fall League.

Players who are selected to play in the AFL are considered the top prospects of their respective teams, something that Gillies doesn’t take lightly.

“It’s obviously a big opportunity to showcase my abilities, not only to the Seattle Mariners, but to the other 29 teams in the majors,” he said. “My main focus is to show our parent club the Seattle Mariners I’m ready to take the next step in my career, and that I can be a viable asset to a major league team one day.”

Gillies, of course, plans on playing in the majors one day; however, he knows that thinking too much about the future will affect him negatively when it comes to the present.

“My mindset is not to worry about making the majors,” he said. “I know if I’m doing my job on the field, helping my team win and going about my business the right way, somebody will take notice and those things will work out the way they’re supposed to.”

The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Gillies has had a relatively smooth path since he turned pro. The Mariners assigned him to their short-season club in Everett after the 2015 Draft. In 2016, Gillies split his time with two clubs, in Clinton and Bakersfield. His then earned a promotion to Double-A Arkansas for this season, which ended a couple of weeks ago.

Gillies had to make some adjustments at the Double-A level, but he had a rather seamless transition from Single-A. Gillies went 3-3 with a 3.32 ERA, pitching 59 2/3 innings and allowing 52 hits while going 3 for 3 in save opportunities. Opponents hit just .231 against Gillies, who has learned to pitch to his strengths and not try to be a power pitcher—because he isn’t one.

“The majority of what I learn is being true to myself and sticking to my strengths,” he said. “As a relief pitcher, a lot of guys want to chase 100 mph these days. There’s a place for everyone at the major league level as long as you do well.”

One of the biggest adjustments Gillies had to make revolved around opposing hitters. Whereas in Single-A Gillies could work around certain spots in the lineup, that’s not the case at the Double-A level. It’s the Double-AA level where the majority of the cream of the MLB prospects reside.

“The lineups are a lot more full compared to A-ball,” Gillies said. “There are really good hitters up and down the lineup, where anyone from the one through nine hitters can hurt you at any time. You have to treat every guy like a four hitter, and you have to go out there and attack them with your stuff.”

Gillies will never blow away hitters with a mid- to high 90s mph fastball; however, he’s got great command and knows how to pitch, as he is able to use different combinations in different situations. Gillies always has a plan of attack when he’s on the mound, and a lot of that involves attacking the strike zone early in the count so he could get ahead of hitters and get them into low percentage hitting counts.

The AFL team workouts begin on Oct. 8, and the season runs through Nov. 18. The AFL has long been known as a stepping stone for prospects to make the jump to the majors. Every MLB roster is littered with players who competed in the AFL.

“I’m excited for this opportunity, and it’s something I’m looking forward to,” he said. “I am very aware of the Arizona Fall League and that players have gone through here and made it to the majors. At the same time, this game has taught me not to expect anything.”

Longtime San Benito High baseball coach Billy Avilies said Gillies is the type of person who will never forget where he came from. Indeed, Gillies who still has family members in Hollister, credited the people and place of his upbringing as major reasons why he’s grown into a high character person and bona-fide MLB prospect.

“There were so many people in Hollister who were instrumental in my development and helped me get to where I am today,” Gillies said.

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