'Intense' Cam Gibson, son of Kirk, drafted by hometown Tigers

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

Decades pass, and the Tigers become part of a family's fabric. It is this way for fans. It can be this way even for players, especially when your name is Gibson.

So much repeat history was made Tuesday when the Tigers picked Cam Gibson, a 21-year-old outfielder at Michigan State, in the fifth round of the 2015 big-league draft.

Cam's moment came 37 years to the month after his dad, Kirk, who also played outfield and did some hitting for the Spartans, signed with the Tigers following an improbable, and somewhat spontaneous, three-month baseball career in East Lansing.

"Yeah, it's pretty sentimental," Cam said Tuesday as he spoke from the family home in Grosse Pointe Farms. "You think about it. You could say that — that it's kind of sentimental.

"I only know I'm going to do everything I can — every single thing I can — to reach that ultimate goal, which I've wanted to do since I was a little kid. And that was to win a World Series and, in the back of my mind, to win a World Series for the Tigers."

Cam's dad, of course, starred for the Tigers during the '80s and later knew grand moments with the Dodgers, all before Kirk returned for a second brief stint in Detroit ahead of retirement in 1995. He later returned as a Tigers coach, and this spring was set to work in the FSD play-by-play booth until a diagnosis of Parkinson's disease ended, for now, that assignment.

But his son already was crafting his own moments of Spartans sports influence. Cam was playing outfield for Jake Boss' team, hitting .300-plus for nearly the entire season, stealing bases, hitting an occasional home run, or galloping around the basepaths after his left-handed bat sparked a sprint for a double or triple by a man who is 6-foot-2, 195 pounds.

Tigers scouts had been watching. They decided after a workout last week at Comerica Park, Gibson could be a fine mid-round pick, which is where the Tigers got him Tuesday, as the 160th overall selection, not far from Baseball America's ranking of him as the 179th-best amateur prospect in 2015.

"We love Cam Gibson," said David Chadd, the Tigers director of amateur scouting. "He's a lot like his father, a very intense young man. We think he'll be able to play center field.

"Speed's his tool. Like his dad, he brings a level of intensity that I like to see. He makes players around him better. He's what I call a grinder. Cam Gibson is going to will his way, work his way, to being an everyday player in the major leagues."

Cam Gibson won't argue with Chadd. Or with anyone who quibbles about Detroit's fifth-round choice.

"I think I'm a good runner who can make something happen in a game," said Gibson, who plans on signing with the Tigers instead of returning to MSU for his senior year. "I think my attitude toward the game is that I bring energy and make plays — that I can make things happen when you're maybe down a run."

His coach buys those thoughts, entirely.

"He runs so well, and he's so athletic, that I think the sky's the limit for him," Boss said Tuesday. "His skills are things, obviously, that you can't teach, and they could enable him to play for a long, long time.

"Defensively, he's got to get better," said Boss, referring to Gibson's six errors in 2015. "But I think moving him to center field (he mainly played left field at MSU) will help him a little.

"Offensively, he continued to get better, using the entire field. He struck out a few times (35 in 57 games) but he's got some power, and he really figured out how to get deep into counts and on base (30 walks).

"I think the biggest improvement was on the bases," Boss said. "He has been turning into a very good base runner and base stealer."

Gibson batted .294 in 57 games for the Spartans, slipping beneath .300 only in the season's last game. He had 10 doubles, four triples, and five home runs. He does not have the power his dad displayed during 17 big-league seasons, nor does he have his dad's size and physical fury. His throwing arm is regarded as lower-grade, one reason along with his speed why Gibson figures to play center field.

"He's really improved his game a lot from his freshman year to now," Boss said.

Gibson was at home Tuesday, with his dad and mom (Jo-Ann), brother Kevin, and girlfriend Mackenzie. MLB Network was covering the draft.

The fifth round and Detroit's turn arrived.

"I kind of thought I would go (professional), but I didn't know if it would be this year or next," Gibson said. "Then, when I heard my name, it was, 'Are you kidding me?' I just jumped up, and I don't think I've ever jumped up faster in my life."

Gibson expects the process to go smoothly. He hopes to report to the same Tigertown complex where his dad was delivered in 1978, after a man then managing the Lakeland Single A team, Jim Leyland, had met Kirk at the Tampa airport, driven him to Lakeland, and introduced him to professional baseball reality.



Chris McCosky contributed