Short-Season Report

Gibson takes father's lessons to Vermont mound




Vermont lefthander Glenn Gibson never threw a curveball until he turned 15. But according to Gibson, now 19, not throwing a curveball as a youngster is one of the biggest reasons he now has such outstanding command.

"My dad wanted to protect my arm," said Gibson, referring to his father Paul, a former major league pitcher. "I think he knew that you've got to learn to pitch off your fastball to succeed. He was my coach in Little League and in high school, and he was emphasizing location from day one.

NEW YORK (PENN) STATE OF MIND

• Second baseman Tyler Mach, the Phillies’ fourth-round selection in June, had the third-highest OPS (1.039) in the New York-Penn League. Batting .333/.439/.600, Mach has mashed in his pro debut, with half of his 30 hits going for extra bases and his walk total (12) higher than his strikeouts (11).

In 2006, Mach led the Big 12 Conference with 16 home runs for Oklahoma State and shared Big 12 player of the year honors with Texas outfielder Drew Stubbs. Drafted by the Cardinals in the 40th round, Mach declined to sign and returned to Oklahoma State for his senior season to boost his draft stock. He ended up hitting .386/.450/.672 this spring and has carried over that success into his professional debut.

Although Mach’s value would appear to be even greater as an offensive second baseman, some scouts did not believe he would stay there long-term after seeing him play there at Oklahoma State. His pro debut may back up those claims: He had four errors in his 20 games at second.

• Dellin Betances gets more hype thanks to his 98 mph fastball and sharp curveball, but Staten Island teammate Zach McAllister, 19, is making his name known in the Yankees rotation as well. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound righthander had 37 strikeouts in 34 innings, maintaining a 3.41 ERA and allowing 12 walks. The 2006 third-round pick also induces plenty of ground balls with his sinker, and he is developing a four-seam fastball with good life that has been clocked in the low 90s.

NORTH BY NORTHWEST

• A 30th-round draft pick has been the most dominant pitcher in the Northwest League this season. Tri-City righthander Bruce Billings led the league with 45 strikeouts, and had just four walks and a 2.36 ERA in 34 innings. Billings pitched for San Diego State in college, showing good command of a 90-92 mph fastball with good life and a slider, but his strikeout rate was down significantly this spring from his previous seasons. Billings has bounced back in his pro debut, pitching well off his fastball and overmatching NWL hitters with superior command.

• Short-season Vancouver lefthander Brad Hertzler had 82⁄3 innings of pro experience under his belt since signing as the Athletics’ 15th-round pick. But that didn’t seem to matter even a little bit as the 21-year-old from Maine tossed five perfect innings in the Canadians’ 1-0 rain-shortened win against Spokane.

“I think he was ready to go back out there for more, I think all the guys were,” Vancouver manager Rick Magnante said, “but the Doppler wasn’t having any of it.”

Magnante praised Hertzler’s ability to stay focused through the conditions, pitching on a slippery slope of a mound, and by the fifth inning landing in thick mud.

“The mound was a little sloppy, but it didn’t really faze him,” Magnante said. “He commanded the fastball with average velocity to both sides of the plate. He threw some offspeed (pitches), but not very many. He really didn’t need to the way he was hitting his spots.”

Of the 72 pitches Hertzler threw, the majority were fastballs. He worked in his curveball and cutter in the fourth and fifth innings, but aside from that, he just painted the corners with his heater.Hertzler, whose older brother Barry is a righthanded reliever in the Red Sox system at Triple-A Pawtucket, has been impressive for the Canadians so far this summer, improving to 1-1, 1.32 with a 13-1 strikeout-walk ratio in 14 innings.

“He does it easy,” Magnante said. “He’s got good command but has limited effort in his delivery. Those two things allow him to repeat well, and he’s got all the intangibles outside of that. The kid’s a competitor.”

• Yakima shortstop Mark Hallberg led the league in batting with a .368 average. Hallberg, a ninth-round pick of the Diamondbacks, was hitting .368/.451/.518 through 133 plate appearances in his professional debut. The 21-year-old former Florida State infielder had more than twice as many walks (13) as strikeouts (six) and is adept on the bases with eight steals with only one caught stealing. Hallberg may not stick at shortstop, though, if his 10 errors in 29 games are an indication of his defensive ability.

APPALACHIAN TRAILS

One of the highest-profile draft-and-follow players signed in May, Danville lefthander Cole Rohrbough already had 42 strikeouts in just 25 innings. The Braves picked Rohrbough in the 22nd round of the 2006 draft, then signed him after he led at Western Nevada Community College to the NJCAA World Seriers. The 20-year-old has a fastball that has touched 94, a plus curveball and an improving changeup in his arsenal.

Third baseman Deibinson Romero was hitting for average and showing patience at the plate for the Elizabethon Twins. The 20-year-old from the Dominican Republic was hitting .306/.403/.486 through 135 plate appearances, building off his 2006 performance in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, where he hit .313/.365/.460. Romero has consistently shown the ability to hit for average since making his professional debut last year, but his on-base percentage is up this year because he has doubled his walk rate (12.6 percent) from a year ago.

PIONEER SPIRIT

• The Helena Brewers had the best record in the Pioneer League, and righthander Robert Bryson was a big reason why. Bryson, who signed in May as a draft-and-follow out of Seminole (Fla.) Community College, led the league in both strikeouts (35, tied) and saves (five) and had a 1.66 ERA in 22 innings as the Brewers’ closer. Bryson was a 17th-round pick in 2006 out of a Delaware high school, and he signed after showing a 96 mph fastball in junior college.

• Kansas City fifth-rounder Adrian Ortiz was hitting for average but not much else early in his pro debut with Idaho Falls. The former Pepperdine center fielder had a .316 batting average through 117 at-bats, but only three of his 37 hits have gone for extra bases. The 20-year-old has good range in the outfield and top-of-the-line speed, but may lack the secondary skills outside of hitting for average to be able to provide value at a higher level.

COMPLEX ISSUES

• Officials in the Nationals front office are pleased with the professional debut of Gulf Coast League outfielder Michael Burgess. The supplemental first-rounder has excellent hitting tools, and has translated his raw power into early success with a wood bat, hitting .314/.417/.549 in his first 61 plate appearances. Scouts like Burgess because of his combination of bat speed, strength and a leveraged swing. Burgess’s teammate Jake Smolinski is also off to a good start in first professional season. A second-round pick, Smolinski was hitting .326/.398/.413 through his first 92 at-bats. Mainly a shortstop in high school, Smolinski has played left field so far for the Nationals. He is a good, strong athlete who generates plus bat speed and has a good eye at the plate.
"When I was in seventh grade, I was playing on an eighth-grade team. My dad wasn't my coach on that team, but I remember I left one game after I gave up eight runs in three innings. I came home really down in the dumps because my dad wouldn't let me throw a curveball, and all the other guys were already doing it. But he promised me that one day this would all work out."

Paul Gibson's advice has paid dividends for his son. Gibson's outstanding maturity and superb command—145 strikeouts against 11 walks in 61 high school innings in New York—were just a couple of reasons that persuaded the Nationals to select him in the fourth round of the 2006 draft, and to sign him for $350,000.

After throwing just six innings at short-season Vermont last year, Gibson has dominated New York-Penn League hitters this season, with 35 strikeouts and just four walks in 31 innings en route to his 0.87 ERA for the Lake Monsters. Gibson pounds the ball down in the strike zone, inducing mostly ground balls when batters do put the ball in play.

Student Of The Game

Gibson has found success without an overpowering fastball, instead relying on his savvy, command and secondary pitches. His fastball generally sits around 87-91 mph, his changeup is a plus pitch, and his curveball is a self-described "work in progress," but also has the potential to be a plus pitch. Gibson pounds the ball down in the strike zone, inducing plenty of ground balls and allowing just one home run on the season.

"Glenn had a very good extended spring training," Nationals farm director Bobby Williams said. "He's made a lot of progress, and he's very receptive to instruction and teaching. He really works hard and has great makeup.

"He has excellent fastball command, locates it to both sides of the plate and he can throw strikes at any time in the count. He also has a plus changeup that has great arm action. It looks like a fastball coming out of his hand."

People who come into contact with Gibson rave about his maturity, polish, work ethic and aptitude, none of which should be too surprising from the son of a former major league pitcher. Gibson's manager, Darnell Coles, was a teammate of Paul Gibson's with the Tigers in 1990.

"He has a pretty good idea of what he wants to do when he's on the mound," Coles said. "He reads over pitching charts. He studies a lot. We're a meeting-oriented team, and he's real keen on paying attention in our meetings. He makes mistakes, but he's been able to pitch out of jams, and that's partly a result of his father showing him how to pitch in certain situations."

Coles said it's more than just his dad's experience, but his specific experience as a southpaw that has proven so helpful.

"When your dad is not only a former major leaguer but also a lefthander just like yourself, it helps because he's gone through what you've gone through and can teach you from the same side of the rubber," he said. "It's more difficult for a righthander to try to teach a lefty the same things."

Maintaining Balance

Gibson isn't the only pitching prospect the Nationals have to teach in Vermont. Righthander Jordan Zimmerman, a 6-foot-2 righthander from Wisconsin-Stevens Point whom the Nationals drafted this year in the second round, rang up 25 strikeouts in his first 16 innings. Zimmerman's repertoire includes a 93-95 mph fastball, a good slider and a changeup.

"He works fast and throws strikes," Coles said. "He has an array of pitches that work well for him."

The Vermont staff also features 2006 first-rounder Colton Willems. Although Willems's 2.76 ERA ranked 10th in the league, he also had more walks (15) than strikeouts (12) through 29 innings. Righthander Adrian Alaniz, leading the NYP with a 0.35 ERA, was giving Willems an example to follow, having walked four and allowed just 11 hits in 26 innings while striking out 31. The former Texas ace throws in the mid-80s, but he has a very good curveball and an advanced feel for pitching, which has been good enough for him to succeed in short-season ball and to earn Big 12 pitcher of the year honors this spring at Texas.

"He's a special pitcher," Coles said. "He just knows how to pitch. He does a great job of commanding his pitches down in the zone."

Alaniz, however, is already 23 years old; Gibson is just 19. With maturity that belies his youth, Gibson knows both his strengths and the areas of his game that he must work to improve to succeed at a higher level.

"I don't have a dominant fastball, so I have to be crafty, keep the ball down and be able to throw my offspeed pitches for strikes," Gibson said. "I'm throwing my curveball in the dirt too much right now, though. It's there a lot of the time, but it's something I need more consistency with.

"The most important thing for me is to get a first pitch strike. Once you get the first pitch strike, you can throw any pitch off that."

Gibson has thrived on his father's advice throughout his baseball career, and since signing with the Nationals, he said the best advice he has received from his father has been to keep his emotions on an even keel.

"Don't get too high, don't get too low," said Gibson, recalling his father's words. "Just keep your attitude in the middle. That's been such a help. I'm confident because I know I can get people out, but I'm not cocky. The key is just to stay balanced no matter what happens."