When Brent Gibbs was about 12 years old, his Little League team was in desperate need of a catcher, and being the biggest kid on his team, his name was the first one called.
Seven years later, he’s developed into what Eau Claire Express Field Manager Dale Varsho calls one of the best defensive catchers he’s ever seen.
“He is absolutely phenomenal,” Varsho said.
It’s pretty recognizable when the former standout at Alton (Ill.) High School is in the lineup behind the plate.
Not only does his red Indiana Hoosiers helmet stick out contrasted to the Texas orange and black of the Express uniform, but so does his commanding of the infield, mound visits, bouncing around to block and throwing the ball all over the diamond to get would-be base stealers.
Gibbs, who redshirted with Indiana this school year, takes great pride in his work behind the mask, and he said aggressiveness, confidence and having a good relationship with the pitching staff separates good defensive catchers from great ones.
“Your pitcher has to have confidence in you, I think that’s when you’re at your best,” Gibbs said. “You don’t want them to be scared to throw a ball in the dirt. You also have to confidence in yourself.”
The catching position in baseball is a bit different than any other. Like any position, a catcher must come up with a big hit in a clutch situation on offense. But on defense, the backstopper has to have more knowledge about the pitching staff and knowing strengths and weaknesses.
During batting practice, Gibbs can be seen mingling with the pitching staff in between his cuts in the cage just as much as he can be seen with the other position players.
“You’re a catcher and also kind of a pitching coach,” Gibbs said. “You have to know what each guys throw and what they’re doing wrong when the ball goes certain places. It’s not really coaching, it’s just more reminding. They know what they’re doing.”
Before this summer, Montevallo pitcher Jeremy Bagnall had never thrown to Gibbs before.
In fact, the two of them didn’t even know one another as Gibbs is a Midwest kid and Bagnall goes to school in the South.
But in his three starts, Bagnall has had Gibbs calling his pitches for every one. He said having the Hoosier behind the plate makes him extremely comfortable on the mound.
“I really trust him behind the plate, I know he’s going to be there, he’s like a wall,” Bagnall said. “He’s a great defensive catcher who throws a lot of guys out, so he’ll back you up.”
Gibbs’ arm is like a cannon. He’s picked off numerous runners at first base while also gunning down more at second.
His coach at Indiana, Tracy Smith, who also happened to be the 2013 NCAA Coach of the Year after guiding the Hoosiers to the College World Series before departing at the end of 2014, had awfully high praises for the Express catcher and his rocket in his socket.
“He has the best throwing arm of any catcher I have ever coached,” Smith said.
And that’s saying something, considering the Hoosiers starting backstopper this season, Kyle Schwarber, was an All-American and drafted fourth overall by the Chicago Cubs two weeks ago.
Even with his high school credentials, where hit .412 with 33 RBI as a senior, Gibbs redshirted so Schwarber could be completely utilized.
While some high school stars struggle to transition from being the star to not playing, Gibbs took it as an opportunity to learn.
“We were together everyday working together,” Gibbs said. “I learned a lot about the game since I redshirted and got to just watch him everyday behind the plate, and just watching how he controlled the game and how he was directing traffic back there.”
That type of attitude didn’t go unnoticed with his collegiate coach, either.
“Instead of moping around and waiting to play next season, Brent prepared to play by working hard at becoming a front line catcher,” Smith said.
Gibbs is only 19 years of age. The knowledge of the game, the instincts and passion are all there for the young catcher who isn’t afraid to sacrifice his body for the betterment of the team.
As is the goal of one day playing in the Major Leagues.
There’s no doubt about one thing. It won’t be his work ethic that will stop from making it to that level.