So what happens when the Boston Red Sox choose you in the second round of the draft, then hand over a $600,000 signing bonus.
If you’re Derrik Gibson you remain humble – maybe to a fault – and then go about your job quietly, driving yourself to improve.
In Gibson’s case, he nearly drove himself into the ground.
“If I went 4 for 4, I still looked for the negatives,” Gibson said.
Those negative thoughts kept thwarting Gibson. He went into this season with a career .243 average in six minor-league seasons. He was beginning his third year in Portland, as a utility player.
“Defensively, everything was working out. Offensively, I knew I had to do better,” Gibson said. “It was a struggle.”
Gibson, 24, seemed to flip on a switch this year. He began to see more playing time and when Mookie Betts was promoted, became Portland’s leadoff hitter.
Consistency, the goal of every player grinding through the minors, has arrived in Gibson’s game. He hit .302 with a .390 on-base percentage in 85 games with the Sea Dogs. In July, Gibson hit a home run in the Eastern League All-Star Game. Earlier this month he was promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket, where he homered in two of his first three games.
“It takes some guys longer to figure out who they are about, being able to be the best them,” said Rich Gedman, the Sea Dogs’ hitting coach and former Red Sox catcher. “Everybody can see (Gibson’s) tools. He can run. He can throw. He can field. He can hit. And he’s been diligent.”
Gibson can become a free agent this winter so the Red Sox need to figure out if they want to keep him around. Of course there was an expectation that Gibson would have reached higher than Triple-A by now. But that’s the unfairness of expectations, especially for players coming directly from high school.
Gibson is from Seaford, Delaware, which is not considered a baseball hot spot. He grew up playing baseball and basketball while making time for fishing on the beach – a passion he occasionally enjoyed on an off day in Maine.
Gibson, a slight 6-foot-1, 170 pounds, could make moves on the basketball court. But early in high school he saw his future in baseball and gave up basketball. He showed enough potential that the University of North Carolina offered a baseball scholarship. It was part of the plan he talked about with his parents.
“We always thought that was the next step, going to college,” Gibson said.
Potential was the key word. At the end of his senior year of high school, in 2008, Gibson was considered for major league baseball’s amateur draft, but publications such as Baseball America figured he was headed to college.
This is part of Baseball America’s pre-draft biography of Gibson:
“Gibson’s evaluations are still based on projection. Playing in Delaware, he is still raw in the field and at the plate but has the athleticism and tools to make him a premium player … he may be too raw for a team to buy him out of his commitment to UNC.”
The Red Sox took a chance and won Gibson over, not only with a signing bonus but with the assurance they’d pay his tuition whenever he decided to go to college.
“That made the decision a lot easier,” Gibson said.
Boston went after a few high school players early that year, including first-rounder Casey Kelly and fourth-rounder Peter Hissey.
Kelly pitched for the Sea Dogs in 2010, then was traded to San Diego in the Adrian Gonzalez deal. Kelly briefly pitched in the majors in 2012 but has been battling injuries since. Hissey has been injured often and is currently on the disabled list with the Sea Dogs.
Gibson’s issue has been more about figuring himself out. After signing with Boston he joined the rookie Gulf Coast League and batted .309 in 27 games. In 2009 he moved up a level and hit .290 for Lowell. But at the next levels in Class A his numbers dropped – .230 in Greenville, .240 in Salem.
In his first season in Portland in 2012, Gibson batted .225.
Gibson knew he was expected to be better than that.
“You feel that way,” he said. “(The Red Sox) obviously spent a little bit of money because they thought you were a good ballplayer. You want to live up to that and come through for them.”
In Gibson’s early years in Portland, then-manager Kevin Boles often said, “Our job is to make sure Derrik Gibson knows how good he is.”
Gibson remembers. “He was saying that I could be more positive, look at what I could bring to the game. … I try to be humble and sometimes I bring myself down too far.”
When he relaxed and stopped trying to do too much – like pulling the ball with power instead of just hitting it up the middle – Gibson began to see results.
“I always felt like it was right there. I just needed to be consistent,” he said. “All the time going to the (batting) cage and working, I was thinking it was going to click.”
That consistency came with being positive. He could enjoy a 4-for-4 performance for what it was, and also move on from the 0-for-4 nights.
“He’s gone through trials where he fought his way through,” Gedman said. “He dipped a little bit and he could have gotten away from (his approach) and started to change, but he didn’t.”
Interestingly, Gibson has emerged offensively while switching positions on defense, moving from the infield to center field. With his athleticism, he has made some outstanding plays.
Gibson said he hopes to re-sign with the Red Sox. He’s comfortable with the organization. And the Red Sox have seen him grow, finally turning those raw tools into production.
“Expectations are one of the challenges of the game,” Gedman said. “But you have to keep it simple. Some things are finally making sense to him. In the past five years he’s been finding out who Derrik Gibson really is.”