Brent Gibbs has taken a winding road to success on the baseball diamond.
On June 10 it all paid off for the former Alton High catcher, as he was drafted in the seventh round of the 2016 MLB Amateur Draft — 225th overall — by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
He had some detours along the way, but he never wavered from his dream of playing professionally and achieved it by miring himself in hard work.
“I’ve been waiting for this for 21 years and I can’t even describe the feeling,” Gibbs said the day of the draft. “I don’t know how to put it into words, it’s the coolest thing ever. Once I heard my name it felt like 1,000 pounds had been taken off my shoulders.
“I’ve been through a lot, I’ve been through a lot of struggles with the sport with the schooling and I think it was the best opportunity for me to go out to (Central Arizona College) and start fresh. It’s a baseball atmosphere. It didn’t work out too well at Indiana, so I thought I needed to do something else and I was advised by a lot of people to go to Arizona.”
Gibbs graduated from AHS in 2013, following a senior season where he hit .412 with 2 homers, 33 RBIs and a whopping 20 doubles. He owns the single-season doubles record for the Redbirds and is their all-time RBI leader.
He was rated the best catcher in the eight-state coverage area by Prep Baseball Report coming out of Alton. He was the sixth ranked prospect overall out of Illinois that year. Things were looking bright.
Gibbs landed a scholarship to Indiana University and was ready to delve into his collegiate career. Once there though, he found himself behind Kyle Schwarber, who is now a member of the Chicago Cubs, but currently recovering from surgery to repair a torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and LCL (lateral collateral ligament).
Gibbs redshirted that first year with the Hoosiers, but then unfortunately was kept off the field with nagging injuries as a sophomore. With the future looking bleak at Indiana, Gibbs made the move to go the junior college route and take his talents to Central Arizona.
Due to NCAA transfer rules he could play right away going the JUCO route. If he would have transferred to another D-I university he would have had to sit out a year.
“I went to Arizona, didn’t know one person out there, but had good coaches and was blessed enough to have a hitting coach that taught me a ton about the game,” Gibbs said. “It helped a lot and I took advantage of the weather and worked as hard as I’ve ever worked and that helped put me at where I’m at today.”
AHS head coach Todd Haug knew it was tough for his former standout out catcher to face the adversity with the Hoosiers, but he never doubted his tenacity to find a way to succeed.
“He has not exactly had the easiest travels,” Haug said. “He had a tremendous situation in Indiana, but the problem was little did he know he was going to be behind Kyle Schwarber and he wasn’t seeing the field very much. Then they had another JUCO All-American in Brad Hartong, so know you’ve worked your tail off for two years to get better and the one thing he was lacking was field experience. With the coaching change at Indiana, Brent got his release and he tried to find a place where he could play right away and a place that was going to continue to push him to get better. He chose Central Arizona, which is just a baseball factory and he had a tremendous year.”
Gibbs finished his one year in the desert with a .396 batting average, 5 home runs, 38 RBIs, a .497 on base percentage and a .590 slugging percentage.
His newfound philosophy with the bat, coupled with his stellar receiving skills, helped land him his spot in the draft.
He feels like he’s come a long way from his time donning a Redbird uniform.
“Defensively, my receiving has gotten 10 times better,” Gibbs said. “With hitting I’d have to say the mental side I’ve learned so much in the last year. I’ve learned situational hitting and it’s helped my offense a ton.”
Gibbs thinks his mental approach at the plate will help with his ascension through the minor leagues.
“I just started this mental approach with the hitting last year, so I think for me advancing I think it’s me continuing doing what I’m doing catching and improve on little thing, make tweaks, but mainly keep moving forward and improving with the bat.”
He has a scholarship to catch at USC still on the table too, but Gibbs feels the professional route is the one for him now.
“USC has given me an awesome opportunity for next year and it’s a great school academically and for baseball, but I’ve been in school for three years now and I think I’m ready to start my professional career,” he said. “I think I’m mature enough mentally and physically and that’s what I’m leaning on.”
Gibbs joins his former teammate, lefty pitcher Bryan Hudson, who was selected in the third round of the 2015 Draft by the Chicago Cubs. The two former Redbirds are the first to play professionally since Bill Lyons signed a free agent deal with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1980. He later played for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1983-84.
Mark Pearson was a right-handed pitcher taken in the sixth round of the ‘74 draft by the Cincinnati Reds and Gary Hagen was a righty hurler picked in the 12th round in ‘69 by the Atlanta Braves, both right out of AHS. Alton grad Andy Hightower also played in the minor leagues for the Cardinals in 1977.
To the best of my knowledge these are the only AHS products to play for MLB franchise or one of its affiliates.
Let’s hope for good things for Gibbs and Hudson as they represent Alton in the professional baseball ranks. Who knows, maybe one day we could see a Major League battery out of the dynamic duo.
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