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Gillespie eyeing reserve outfield role with Giants

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Cole Gillespie seems like a perfect fit for the Giants. In reality, he must squeeze himself onto the Opening Day roster.

Gillespie grew up around Portland, Ore., rooting for the Giants and adoring Barry Bonds. Gillespie even predicted during the 2001 All-Star break -- take his word for it -- that Bonds would finish with 73 home runs, which ultimately was the slugger's record-setting total.

"It sounded like the right number to me," Gillespie said.

Gillespie attended Oregon State University, where athletic teams wear orange-and-black uniforms, of course. As an aspiring outfielder in the Arizona Diamondbacks system, his manager at Triple-A Reno was Brett Butler, the Giants' productive and popular center fielder/leadoff hitter from 1988-90.

More to the point, the Giants need a right-handed batter to complement Gregor Blanco, the projected starting left fielder, and balance the bench. Gillespie, whose batting average remained at .261 Friday as the Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers were rained out, meets that requirement.

He has more Major League experience than Francisco Peguero, another leading right-handed-swinging outfield candidate. Gillespie also can play all three outfield positions, which would be a struggle for Peguero or Brett Pill, the first baseman who might be tested in left field. Manager Bruce Bochy has demonstrated that he values versatile reserves.

But as a non-roster invitee who's new to the organization, Gillespie knows that nothing's guaranteed him. Though he has spent more time playing outfield in the Majors than Peguero or Pill -- 50 games with the D-backs in 2010-11 -- both are outhitting him. Peguero ranks among the Cactus League's top hitters with a .550 average; Pill's batting .273.

Returning to Triple-A would accomplish little for Gillespie, 28, who owns a .292 career average in Triple-A. He has mastered the tasks the Giants want him to perform, at least at that level. He hit .361 (35-for-97) with a .448 on-base percentage against left-handed pitchers last year, and he won a Rawlings Minor League Gold Glove Award for defensive excellence in 2011 with Reno.

"Obviously it's not up to me in the end," Gillespie said, regarding his fate in this camp. "I feel like I'm a big league player and can help the team. It's just a matter of getting the opportunity."

The Giants have given Gillespie the chance he seeks. He and fellow outfielders Roger Kieschnick and Juan Perez share the team lead in games played with 11. Frequent activity suits Gillespie, who doesn't have the luxury of easing himself into playing shape. A sense of urgency must govern almost everything he does. For example, he berated himself for taking too many third strikes.

"It's tough because I'm trying to make a team," said Gillespie, who signed with the Giants as a Minor League free agent after the D-backs designated him for assignment last September. "The guys who are established have the benefit of working on something. For me, it's about making plays and helping the team as much as I can."

Gillespie proved he could do that at Oregon State, which he led to its first of back-to-back College World Series triumphs in 2006. He was named an All-American and captured the Pacific-10 Conference Player of the Year award that season.

Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford, a freshman at UCLA that year, recalled Gillespie's all-around skills.

"He raked against us," Crawford said. "And he was running balls down in the outfield."

One day during that charmed '06 season, Gillespie met the ballplayer who captured his imagination. Visiting Los Angeles while Oregon State played a series at Pepperdine, he encountered Bonds at a restaurant.

"He was great to me and to a couple of my other teammates. That was pretty exciting," Gillespie said. "I was just amazed with what he could do with the bat. Watching his at-bats, watching his plate discipline ... as a hitter, you want to have that. But obviously he was on a whole different level."

Gillespie, who hit .236 with three home runs in his D-backs tenure, has no illusions of emulating Bonds' power if he gets to roam the former left fielder's turf. He'll be content to "stay in the gaps and run a little bit."

Chris Haft is a reporter for

San Francisco Giants, Cole Gillespie