Although he was a talented hitter and pitcher, Max Gibler’s summer league coach with the Building Champions Baseball Academy elected for the then-sophomore to exclusively concentrate on pitching.
For two years in the summer and three years with the Blue Springs High School team, Gibler was a starting pitcher and didn’t have a plate appearance during that span.
“That was my main thing and that’s what I excelled at, so that’s what I stuck with,” Gibler said of pitching. “And that’s what my teams needed me to do. My coach wanted me just to pitch because we had a lot of first basemen and not a lot of pitchers.”
The last at-bat for the recent high school graduate was with his summer league team during his freshman year. Well, that was his last one until he joined the Blue Springs Rod’s Sports A’s American Legion team.
A’s manager Mike Rooney knew Gibler was a good hitter from the his youth baseball days.
Because Gibler was nursing a inflamed labrum in his left shoulder and bicep tendinitis, which caused him to miss his last start with the Wildcats, he hasn’t thrown a pitch in a game yet this summer. So, Rooney has put the Blue Springs High School graduate at first base and it’s paid dividends.
So far, Gibler has a .331 average, an .829 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage), one home run and 27 RBIs. And he’ll look to keep the A’s offense rolling when they play Jefferson City Post 5 at 5 p.m. Thursday at Liberty Park Stadium in Sedalia during the American Legion Missouri State Championship tournament.
“I had the luxury of watching Max hit when he was growing up,” Rooney said. “He’s always been a tremendous hitter. I was shocked he didn’t hit for the high school team, but that’s not my call. I knew Max could come on board and help us offensively besides his pitching. It was a double blessing to get Max on the team because we get his hitting and his pitching.
“He makes good contact, drives the ball well and has some power. He’s a great (No.) 6 or 7 hitter.”
Added A’s third baseman, catcher and pitcher Jake Lufft: “Max and Ryan (McMahan, who is also playing for the A’s for the first time) have been a huge help for us. Hopefully they are a bigger help for state.”
Right now Gibler is just enjoying hitting for the first time in awhile. It wasn’t a hard decision for him to join the A’s for the first time as a hitter.
“We needed a backup (infielder) whenever Jake pitched and it’s fun, I like to hit,” said Gibler, who was 3-2 with a 2.12 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 39 2/3 innings for Blue Springs High School in the spring. “I loved hitting when I was younger. This is my last hurrah because I am just going to pitch in college at (Rockhurst University) hopefully.”
At first, Gibler was only able to hit the fastball well. Now, he’s gotten better at hitting offspeed pitches and it’s led to better numbers.
“At the beginning of the season, things started out slow,” Gibler said. “Then I started to get back into a groove later. Now, I am hitting over .300. It’s good to get back into it and hit like I used to.”
His Wildcat and A’s teammate C.J. July said he was impressed with how well Gibler could hit considering he had never seen him do so with the Wildcats.
“It’s really fun to see,” July said. “The guy goes out there the first day and says, ‘I don’t know that I am going to do, but we’ll see.’ Then he goes out there and starts hitting and is making great contact.”
Gibler is still looking to throw his first pitch for the A’s in the state tournament. He has been rehabbing his throwing shoulder and is hopeful he will be available to pitch in Sedalia.
“That would be a gigantic pick-up for us,” Rooney said of Gibler possibly being available for state. “Max throws a heavy fastball and he throws downhill. He has a really nice breaking ball, too. He also has an advantage because he’s left-handed.”
Until he feels 100 percent, Gibler is going to concentrate on helping his team at the plate and at first base. After the American Legion season is over, who knows, maybe the coaches at Rockhurst will give him an opportunity to hit after seeing what he can do with the A’s.
“Absolutely, that would be fun,” Gibler said when asked if he’d want to hit in college.