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March 27, 2012 at 12:00 PM

After embracing his role, Gibson hopes to flourish

Derrik Gibson (Kelly O'Connor)
FORT MYERS, Fla. – Derrik Gibson has a very specific, even archetypal set of skills for a middle infielder.

He’s a smooth fielder with an accurate arm and professional experience at second and short. His speed allows him to turn singles into something more, either by stretching singles into doubles or slapping base hits and quickly swiping second.

But as his batting average hovered around .200 in the middle of last season with High A Salem, Gibson realized that such players, even if other parts of their game lack, can succeed too. Then he started to himself.

“You see guys hitting home runs and you’re like, ‘man, I wish I could do that,’ ” he said last week in Fort Myers. “But at the same time, you have to realize what you do well and maybe what he doesn’t do so well; just look at it like I’m a table-setter guy where I need to get on base and try to steal bags. That’s how you’ve got to do it offensively, let him drive you in. Once I realized what type of player I am, that’s when I started to excel a little more.”

That realization, which began in Greenville in 2010 and cemented itself in the middle of last year’s Carolina League campaign, was something of a weight off Gibson’s shoulders.

“You definitely become a better ballplayer once you realize what your key assets are and what they're going to allow you to do,” he said.

Not coincidentally, Gibson ended 2011 with his strongest stretch at the plate since he made the jump to full-season ball two years ago. Gibson hit .274 (59-for-215) after July 1, a period during which he said a season of work with Salem hitting coach Alex Ochoa (who will coach first base for Boston this season) began to pay off.

“I’d get in tendencies where I’d get too big at times, and I’m not Bryce Brentz,” Gibson said with a laugh. He didn’t hit the first of his three professional home runs until his 127th game, and boasts a career .316 slugging percentage. “I’m not going to drive the ball like that. I try to stay gap-to-gap and just try my best to trust my abilities, and I think that’s what happened. I just saw the ball coming out of the pitchers’ hand. Instead of (taking) defensive swings, I started to trust it, stay close to the ball and let my hands work. It worked out pretty well.”

Bruce Crabbe, who managed Gibson in Salem last year, said his second half was “much better” than the first. Going forward, he thinks that sustaining the highs and working through the low points is going to be key to Gibson’s development.

“I think he’s gotten to the point now where he’s going to be facing better competition at the next level up,” Crabbe said. “He’s going to have to stay with a consistent approach, a consistent demeanor, stay with it and see where it goes from there.”

Such highs and lows have come to define Gibson’s career so far. After Boston selected him with the 77th overall pick in the 2008 MLB Draft, Gibson signed quickly and spent a month in the Gulf Coast League. He hit .309 in 27 games that summer in Fort Myers, and finished the 2008 season with 14 games in Lowell.

The following year, Gibson stayed back in extended spring training and broke camp with Lowell, where he hit .290 with 28 stolen bases in 67 games. He moved up to the 15th spot on the SoxProspects.com rankings chart prior to the 2010 season, but in full-season ball, Gibson struggled. He hit .230 with a .621 OPS with Greenville in 2010, though he swiped 39 bases in 122 games. And despite the late-season success, Gibson still finished with a .240 batting average last season in Salem.

He admittedly has been a work in progress at the plate, but entering his fifth season in professional baseball, said he’s learned to take positives from everything. To that end, Gibson is pleased with his performance so far this spring.

“I feel the same way I ended the second half of last year,” he said. “Early work to (batting practice) to the game, it’s carrying over. Right now in spring training, you’re not really worried about the results; you want to save it for the season when it matters the most. But the progress I’m going through, the timing and seeing the ball, it’s clicking pretty well.”

Gibson was told he was competing for a spot in Double-A Portland this spring, but said he would still be happy with a return trip to Salem.

Crabbe said the organization is staying the course with their highest remaining draft pick from 2008.

“We realize where he’s going and where he’s going to be, what kind of challenges he faces… so we’re going to be patient,” Crabbe said. “We’re going to stay on the path we’ve chosen for him. He knows the program we’ve made out for him. If he’s consistent and follows the program, then we can’t say anything about it. We’ve just got to let them play.”

Jon Meoli is a Senior Columnist for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonMeoli.