Draft preview: Can Gibson, Pirates connect?

Missouri pitcher, possible first-rounder, has ties to franchise

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A few vital details about 6-foot-6 pitcher Kyle Gibson:

He played his teen summers on Pirate City's fields in Bradenton, Fla.

He and his family live in Greenfield, Ind., 25 miles east of the home of the Pirates' Class AAA farm team in Indianapolis, and he keenly awaits the chance to play on Indianapolis' Victory Field.

His dad, Harold, once wrote a high school term paper on the greatness of Roberto Clemente.

Perhaps most important, he plans to sign speedily. No holdouts or protracted negotiations as two University of Missouri pitchers before him -- Arizona's Max Scherzer (No. 11 in 2006 and signed hours before re-entering the 2007 draft) and Aaron Crow (No. 9 in 2008 by Washington but unsigned). Like Gibson, Crow is competing for one of the first-year player draft's top spots come Tuesday when the Pirates pick at No. 4 overall.

"I got nothing against those guys," Gibson said, punctuated with a laugh, over the telephone last week. "They had their own situations, they thought it was best to do that. In my situation, it's best to get going, sign and start playing. Hopefully get to the big leagues as fast as I can."

Kyle Gibson

Age: 21

Height: 6-6

Weight: 208

Home: Greenfield, Ind.

School: Missouri.

Skinny: 28-10 with Tigers, second-most wins in school history. ... 92-mph fastball. ... Offers downward plane on his pitches Pirates brass relishes. Slider and changeup supposedly MLB ready.

• Note: This is the first in a series on players the Pirates may take with the No. 4 overall pick in Tuesday's first round.

"One thing I can tell you: We're not in this to play any kind of game," added his father. "My son realizes how special this is. God has blessed him in many ways. There will be nothing from our side. We were concerned when Aaron didn't sign last year; that put two Missouri guys in a row -- Scherzer and Crow. That's not us. There are no demands. We don't have any demands. He just wants to play."

So if, as Pirates officials insist, they aim to avoid the summer-long kind of wrangling they endured last year with No. 2 overall pick Pedro Alvarez, such a family policy may suit them well.

Already, he is steeped in the Pirates' minor-league culture.

Gibson, 28-10 in three seasons for the Tigers of the Big 12 and who shares the single-season Missouri strikeout record of 131 with Scherzer, began his college baseball climb during summers at Pirate City.

While being dropped off at a baseball camp in the Bradenton-Sarasota area, the family drove past the IMG Academies and spied a camp there. The next thing he knew, he was at the Pirates' Florida headquarters pitching in league games against collegians while still a sophomore and then a junior in high school.

"That's why it's kind of ironic the Pirates are in the mix, for that fact my sophomore and junior summers [in] high school, I played 30 games there every summer," Gibson said.

After he and Crow combined to lead the Missouri staff the previous two seasons, Gibson was the Tigers' ace this year, and he dazzled. He went 11-3 with a 3.21 ERA and those record-tying 131 strikeouts in 1062/3 innings against just 19 walks. He tossed a complete-game shutout with 11 strikeouts against No. 1 Texas. He threw a complete game to beat Baylor's Kendal Volz, another top prospect. And, in his second start of the season, he lost a 2-1 duel at Arizona State against fellow first-round candidate Mike Leake. He used a fastball that could become "super-scary" as he grows, a slider that "evaporates in the strike zone" and what major-league scouts call a "plus" curveball to win 10 of his final 12 decisions and shove the Tigers into the NCAA tournament, said Missouri pitching coach Tony Vitello.

"We asked him to do everything upside down, backward, forwards," Vitello added of an athlete he contends could've played shortstop in the Big 12. "Even being run down at the end of the year, he took the ball for us. He didn't give up a run in his last 16 innings or something. And he didn't have much left in the tank. He did above and beyond for this program on or off the field. He's not too far from being on TV."

Fox Sports Net Pittsburgh, so the Gibsons seem to hope.

"That would be a gift from God," said the father, whose son was a 36th-round choice by Philadelphia in 2006 and would welcome being drafted by the club in Pennsylvania's western precinct. "That would be pretty special, because of ... where we've been, the connection here in Indianapolis, Pittsburgh is close enough for us to drive there. We'd love to be part of that organization."

Yesterday, Gibson was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his right forearm, which will keep him from pitching several weeks and could lower his status in the draft.

Chuck Finder can be reached at cfinder@post-gazette.com .


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