Gilbert, who was signed by Oakland as a minor league free agent before the start of the 2008 season, continued his frenetic style of play with the High-A Stockton Ports during the regular season. The left fielder finished the year with a team-high 35 stolen bases, good for seventh-most in the California League.
Gilbert wasn't just a base-stealer for Stockton, however. He hit .278 with a .364 OBP in 119 games, setting the table regularly for the big sluggers in the middle of Stockton's line-up, including Sean Doolittle, Chris Carter, Josh Donaldson, Matt Spencer and Corey Brown. Gilbert led the Ports with 133 hits and scored a team-high 85 runs. But Gilbert really upped his game during the post-season, when he hit .352 with 11 RBIs, five doubles and four stolen bases for the California League champion Ports. That effort earned Gilbert the Ports' post-season MVP honors.
For Gilbert, having the opportunity to play close to home this season added a special dimension to the year.
"It was definitely fun to play in Stockton. I had family and friends come out to the games and there is nothing better than that," Gilbert said.
However, the highlight of the season for Gilbert was the Ports' post-season run, which ended with the team taking home the California League crown despite having to play a wild card series at the start of the post-season. It was the first Cal League title for Stockton since 2002.
"It was great. It was most definitely fun because we were a good team and we worked well together, but when the playoffs came, especially in that last series, we all came together like it was a big family. Everybody was for each other, everybody was there picking each other up. It was really fun," Gilbert said.
Another highlight for Gilbert during the season was his trip to the California League/Carolina League All-Star game. He went 1-4 in the game with an RBI and a stolen base.
"It was a good experience. I got a chance to play with some of the guys that I had played with last year [with the Chicago White Sox's Low-A squad]," Gilbert said.
"Everybody just had fun playing baseball. It was all laughs. The coaches joked around with us and everyone just had fun."
In addition to having a good time, Gilbert also used the trip to improve his game. He picked the brain of fellow Cal League All-Star Peter Bourjos about the art of stealing bases. Bourjos, who stole a league-best 50 bases this season, gave Gilbert a few tips that helped Gilbert steal 18 bases after the All-Star break in 24 chances. Before the All-Star break, Gilbert stole 17 bags, but he was caught 12 times.
"When mid-season came, I kind of made an adjustment on how I take off. I talked to Peter Bourjos and he told me some ways that he takes off, so I tried it and it worked," Gilbert said.
Gilbert also credits his improvement on the base-paths to learning to pick his spots better.
"Just knowing when to run and picking better counts to run in and just trying not to rush everything. I think the main thing is running on better counts," Gilbert said.
Of course, a base-stealer isn't much good to a team if he can't reach base, something that Gilbert has prided himself on being effective at throughout his career. He reached base at a .364 clip for Stockton last season and he has a career OBP of .369. He has also struck-out only 131 times and has walked 115 times in 1,080 career at-bats.
"I was always kind of good at working counts. It started from college. I was always a battler at the plate," Gilbert said.
"I was always pretty good at putting the bat on the ball when I needed to. You are going to strike-out sometimes but I was always that guy who got on base and tried to cause disruption on the base-paths."
This off-season, Gilbert is working hard to make himself an even bigger force on the base-paths.
"I'm working on my whole game, but one thing that I am really trying to work on is my speed. Running clean. Actually just playing clean baseball. Hit the cut-off man, being balanced at the plate, being really clean when I run. When I take-off to steal, or even my routes from base-to-base, just running everything really clean," Gilbert said.
Because Gilbert was signed as a minor league free agent before last season, he was eligible for free agency again this off-season. Before coming to the A's last season, Gilbert had already played for two organizations since signing as an undrafted free agent in 2005 with the Boston Red Sox. It didn't take him long to decide that he wanted to return to the A's organization, however.
"I really like all of the coaches there. Everybody treated me really well and I was comfortable with all of the coaches," Gilbert said.
"The A's gave me an opportunity to play everyday. They were pretty much the first team to give me that opportunity and to show me some kind of interest."
Getting the opportunity to play everyday allowed Gilbert to make two runs at the California League record for consecutive games with a hit. Twice during the season he posted hitting streaks of more than 20 games. The Cal League record is 35 games. As he drew closer to the record, Gilbert became a focus of attention for both his teammates and the media. Although he ultimately fell short in the chase, Gilbert had fun with the streaks.
"My first streak, when I got to about 21 [games], people started saying ‘you need just this number more to beat the Cal League record' and stuff like that. So I started being more aware of it then," Gilbert said.
"Then the second one, people let me know early, saying ‘you need to beat the Cal League record.' But there was really no pressure. We kind of all made fun of it and it wasn't really like a do-or-die kind of thing."
Although Gilbert signed his contract with the A's early in the off-season, he isn't planning on taking it easy this winter.
"I don't really want to make the off-season any more relaxing than what I did last year. I want to elevate my game. I'm working with a speed guy this year and doing things a little bit different," Gilbert said.
"The past couple of years, I have been working out with Eric Byrnes and his trainer, but I'm doing something a little bit different this year, taking yoga and working out with a track guy, trying to work on my speed. I'm leaving for spring training early this year, so I am really working on baseball from January on out there in Papago."