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Gillaspie's glove, bat turning all the right heads

MLB.com @wwchastain

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Casey Gillaspie continues to make progress.

The Rays' No. 1 overall pick of the 2014 Draft was named the 2016 Minor League Player of the Year by the Rays' baseball operations department. Kevin Cash is also among those singing Gillaspie's praises. The Rays manager noted that Gillaspie "made huge strides last year."

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Casey Gillaspie continues to make progress.

The Rays' No. 1 overall pick of the 2014 Draft was named the 2016 Minor League Player of the Year by the Rays' baseball operations department. Kevin Cash is also among those singing Gillaspie's praises. The Rays manager noted that Gillaspie "made huge strides last year."

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"Just the overall confidence he showed this spring, and what I've heard the guys in player development talk about," Cash said of Gillaspie,the club's No. 5 prospect according to MLBPipeline.com. "Last year, the success he had in [Triple-A] Durham is exciting for the entire organization."

The Rays drafted Gillaspie because of his bat, so it was interesting Cash chose to talk about the 24-year-old's glove.

"I'm really impressed with the way he's taking ownership of his defense," Cash said. "I don't know if people were hard on him about it. It was something he could get better at and he did, and he's become a really good defender."

Gillaspie noted that he got busy working on his defense once the Rays drafted him.

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"Defense had been my downfall, and I wanted to improve on it to help me get to the next level," Gillaspie said. "So I definitely tried to work on it more diligently every day during drills and BP, to try and get better."

Ironically, the first step proved to be his first step toward improving.

"I lost some bad weight," Gillaspie said. "I was working with all the coaches down in the Minor Leagues. And even with [bench coach Tom] Foley up here in the Major Leagues. I wanted to get better with my first step. That, and a bunch of little things I wanted to improve on."

While his defense has improved, Gillaspie's bat will ultimately drive whether he makes the next step. He finished the 2016 season at Durham, where he hit .307 with seven home runs and 23 RBIs in 47 games. In three seasons in the Rays' system, he has hit .270 with 42 home runs and 154 RBIs in 282 games.

Being close to the Major Leagues and not quite there can create a frustrating situation for a prospect. Gillaspie smiled when asked if he was frustrated at being close to the Major Leagues but not quite there.

"It's something I try not to worry about," Gillaspie said. "You hear it all the time. You don't want to play GM. And you don't want to think about what they're thinking about you. You just want to come to the park every day and try and get better. I want to learn as much as I can up here in Major League camp and get ready for the season."

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005.

Tampa Bay Rays, Casey Gillaspie