Bat is calling card for Tigers prospect Gerber

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

Outfielders are stacked high in baseball's farm systems, with any thoughts of making the big leagues generally linked to a single skill.

Can a man hit good pitching with enough regularity and crunch to separate himself from the crowd? Can his bat make up for other, lesser tools that won't be as critical in his big-league profile?

Mike Gerber, in time, will offer his own answers. In the meantime, he is handling some basics. Early in Saturday night's West Michigan Whitecaps 9-7 defeat of Lake County, Gerber smashed a three-run homer beyond the extra-deep center-field fence at Fifth Third Field. He later added a single as part of his two-hit evening.

Gerber, who had just finished his senior season at Creighton when the Tigers snagged him in the 14th round of last June's draft, is batting .341 for West Michigan, complete with a .371 on-base average and an .837 OPS.

He swings left-handed, checks in generously at 6-foot-2, and is listed at 175 pounds. He also is two months shy of turning 23, which makes those low Single A numbers only slightly less imposing.

"He's interesting," Whitecaps manager Andrew Graham said. "He's athletic, with broad shoulders, and probably weighs closer to 190, so he's got room to grow and develop. But he's got great bat-pop through the zone, and quick hands that can shoot the ball the other way.

"He's very disciplined at the plate, he shows power, and he hits for average. He lets the ball go deep and goes the other way. The average age in this league is probably 21 or 22, but the fact is, what he's doing is special."

Bruce Fields had the same impression last month when the Tigers' minor-league roving batting coach checked Gerber during his travels.

"He's got a really good swing – the barrel stays in the zone a long time," Fields said Sunday, speaking from the Orlando, Florida, airport as he prepared for a week of inspecting Tigers prospects in the Dominican Republic.

A standard summary on prospects such as Gerber, who aren't particularly speedy, or wizards with the glove or with power-armed relays, is that they will go as far in professional baseball as their bat takes them.

"I would say that would be a pretty good assessment, definitely," Fields said. "He's a good kid, and you root for guys like him. There's definitely some potential there.

"When a guy has a legitimate bat, that's different," Fields said, drawing the line between potential big-leaguers and prospects who might fit the higher-percentage class known as organizational players.

"Gerber's bat is legit. Is it major-league legit? We don't know. But I think potentially something might be there. That's how we would look at it. Because he stays in the zone a long time with a nice, effortless swing. The ball jumps off his bat. So, you've got to keep an eye on someone like him. Because, again, that bat is legit."

Gerber is a Chicago-area native (Naperville) who played four seasons at Creighton ahead of signing last summer with the Tigers.

He batted .286 in 57 games at Single A Connecticut, then was shipped to the higher Single A rung at West Michigan when the Whitecaps got socked with some late-season injuries.

In eight games for Graham's team, Gerber batted .387, with a .941 OPS.

"He learns quickly and plays a good outfield," Graham said. "He's not going to overwhelm you with his arm strength, or with his speed, but he makes all the plays.

"I think he's got to work on his base running, and if he's going to play corner outfield, he'll need to hit some homers, take more bases, and become a better base runner. That will make Detroit push him (up the chain) a little faster."