Gibson next ace in deck

Tuesday, September 23, 2008 | 6:44 p.m. CDT; updated 8:37 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Kyle Gibson watches his teammates practice while taking a break in the dugout on Monday, Sept. 22, 2008. Gibson is one of the pitchers for the MU baseball team. He must follow former pitcher Aaron Crow, both atop the MU rotation and as the pitcher replacing a first-round selection.

Two years ago, former Missouri pitcher Aaron Crow inherited the role of staff ace from Max Scherzer, who was drafted 11th overall in 2006.

Now, Kyle Gibson must follow Crow, both atop the MU rotation and as the pitcher replacing a first-round selection.

He doesn’t seem fazed by the idea.

“I’m not Aaron Crow,” Gibson, a junior, said. “I have to focus on my strengths. We all have to do our own thing. He throws different than I do.”

One of the biggest differences between the two is velocity. Crow’s fastball reaches 96 mph, while Gibson peaks around 92 mph. But that’s something Gibson has been working on because, as he said, “a lot works off the fastball.”

“My biggest weakness is my physical strength,” he said. “I’ll do anything, within the rules of the game, to get better.”

Gibson has added 32 pounds to his 6-foot-6-inch frame since entering MU at 170 pounds. He could afford to add a few more pounds to his wire-thin frame.

Gibson’s desire to improve led him to the Netherlands, Germany, and the Czech Republic over the summer. He was selected to the collegiate Team USA squad that went 24-0, the first time a USA team has ever been undefeated in the International University Sports Federation’s collegiate baseball competition.

Gibson led Team USA with a 5-0 record.

“It was a great experience, all the traveling and getting to play,” Gibson said. “It was a great learning experience. The biggest thing (he worked on) was fastball command.”

A meeting with coaches after last season helped Gibson identify that as a weakness, according to pitching coach Tony Vitello. Every year, MU’s coaches use statistics and percentages to tell pitchers what each needs to work on.

Gibson and coaches agree that the summer experience helped Gibson improve.

“He’s primed to have his best year,” Vitello said. “I don’t know about statistics, but he’ll make his best contribution to the team this year.”

Vitello credits Gibson’s personality as a major help in his development.

“You could have a feeling of supremacy after pitching with Team USA,” he said. “They’re the best of the best. But he didn’t. He looks out for others. He wants each guy to feel comfortable.”

Harold Gibson, who earned the nickname “The Hook” for relying so much on his curveball when pitching at Greenfield (Ind.) Central High School and Otero Junior College in La Junta, Colo., agreed with Vitello’s assessment of his son.

“He’s become a student of the game,” Harold Gibson said. “He says, ‘I don’t know it all.’ He listens to his coaches and works hard. He’s always been mature for his age.”

One of the things Kyle Gibson learned was a lesson from Crow.

“He taught me a lot on the field,” Gibson said. “He taught me to attack guys. I feel I’m going to be a lot better this year (about that). He told me, ‘They’re going to get themselves out.'”

Vitello has faith the streak of staff aces will continue.

“If there’s pressure, it’s Kyle putting it on himself,” Vitello said. “When Max (Scherzer) left, he was different than Aaron (Crow). I think that pattern is going to continue.”

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