Michael Gerber Baby!
It’s not a new advertising slogan for the Michigan-based purveyor of baby food, nor is it the latest catchphrase from basketball bloviator Dick Vitale. It’s what fans hear at the start of every Whitecaps home game this year, when West Michigan’s outfielder Michael Gerber is introduced.
Perhaps it may not the most appropriate nickname, seeing as Gerber turned 23 in July, and currently stands as the second oldest position player on the team. But that surname is the sort of low-hanging fruit perfectly suited for minor-league baseball hijinks, and it IS just his first full season in pro ball, so at least his career is still in its infancy.
But all Gerber has done since turning pro is hit, and he has shown enough grown-man skills to catch the eye of Tigers fans and prospect evaluators alike. That’s no small feat for a kid who went undrafted out of Creighton after his junior year, and as a senior didn’t get picked until the 15th round.
“So far, so good,” he said. “I’ve just been trying to stick with my same approach all year. Not try to do too much at the plate. I felt good at the beginning of the year and right now I’m just trying to maintain it and keep it going. It’s a long season...so there’s a lot that can happen, but I’m just trying to focus on quality at bats every day.”
The results have been impressive. Through 116 games, Gerber is hitting .307/.363/.481, and he’s among the Midwest League leaders in so many offensive categories that it’s far easier to just name the two where he doesn’t rank in the top ten: walks and stolen bases.
He’s a good bet to win the Tigers’ Minor League Player of the Year award, and the Whitecaps have gone 29- in the second-half, giving the team a strong chance to make the playoffs, and Gerber a real shot at becoming West Michigan’s second consecutive league MVP.
“I think the All-Star break was good for us,” Gerber said. “We kind of reset, and kind of got a new mindset, and we’ve gotten off to a pretty good start. We’re really just trying to make the playoff push. That was our goal. If it didn’t happen in the first half, then we need to make it happen in the second half.”
It would be easy to write off Gerber’s stats as another example of an advanced college bat feasting on younger pitchers, but talent evaluators have seen skills that could very well play in the majors. TigsTown’s own John Moore has watched Gerber play more than a dozen times this season, and thinks he has a good shot at being a fourth outfielder at the highest level.
“He’s a pretty good athlete,” Moore said. “The swing is a little long, but he shows gap power, though there’s not much physical projection remaining. It’s mostly a corner profile.”
That might not sound like the most impressive scouting report, but fourth outfielders can add a lot of value if used correctly. During their recent four-year run as division champs, the Tigers got strong contributions from fourth outfielders Matt Tuiasosopo, Andy Dirks, Quintin Berry, and Ryan Raburn.
And really, getting any value at all from a 15th-round pick should be considered a bit of a coup. Since the draft began in 1965, the Tigers have had only four 15th rounders sign and reach the big leagues in Detroit. The last to do it was Chris Wakeland, who was drafted in 1996, played in ten games for the Tigers in 2001, and never saw the majors again.
For his part, Gerber is realistic about his strengths and weaknesses.
“I can hit to all fields, and I think that’s one of my better hitting abilities,” he said. ”When you see some of these good pitchers who’ve got multiple pitches they can throw for strikes, just being able to use the whole field at the plate helps. There’s still obviously a ton of stuff to work on. I’ve been working a lot on my defense lately, with my throwing, and strengthening my arm.”
Growing up a fan of the Cardinals, Gerber patterned his game on Jim Edmonds, but he has embraced the challenge of changing positions in pro ball.
“I played four years of center field at college, but in pro ball they kind of see me more as a corner outfielder,” he said. “So that’s one of the things I’ve been working on out here with my defense. Just getting more used to the corners and being able to play both. It’s a little bit different. You get more of a true ball in center field than you do in the corners.”
There are still plenty of hurdles for Gerber to clear in his professional life, but in the meantime he’s making moves in his personal life as well. He graduated from Creighton with a degree in Graphic Design, and while in school he met Caroline Scott. Ms. Scott is a bit of a competitor herself, having been named Miss Wyoming USA 2014, and representing her state in the 2015 Miss USA Pageant.
“We’ve been dating almost three years now,” he said. “We had some classes together at school...and kind of hit it off. So, we are engaged and everything. We do not have a date set yet, but it’s exciting. She’s off doing her stuff, and I’ve been busy with mine, and it’s been working well.”
Perhaps there will be a true Gerber baby in the future.
But Tigers fans may not have to wait much longer to see a younger member of the family. Michael’s brother David served as Creighton’s closer as a sophomore last year, picking up nine saves, and posting a 1.69 ERA in 32 innings. Given the organization’s penchant for drafting relatives of current players, might we hear David’s name called in the 2016 draft?
“He would love that,” Gerber said. “He would love that.”