Spring 2021 Magazine

21 MLB players to watch in 2021: Texas Rangers pitcher Kyle Gibson

Through the month of March, leading up to MLB Opening Day on April 1,
Sports Spectrum is highlighting 21 Christ-following players to watch in 2021.

Eight years down as an MLB starting pitcher, there’s not a lot left for Kyle Gibson to experience. But the Texas Rangers veteran will check another first off the list when he takes the mound April 1. He’ll get his first Opening Day start.

Gibson was informed earlier this week by Rangers manager Chris Woodward.

>> Subscribe to Sports Spectrum Magazine for more stories where sports and faith connect <<

“It’s special,” Gibson told reporters Wednesday. “It’s hard to put into words exactly what it means. It means a lot to start the first game of the season, but there are games later in the year, in the playoffs that you’d like to pitch even more. I’m trying to keep that in perspective. What I do think it can do is set a tone for the series. If you go out and pitch well in the first game of a series, you can set the team up for success in that series.”

The honor comes in Gibson’s second season with the Rangers, after seven seasons starting for the Minnesota Twins, who selected Gibson with the 22nd overall pick in the 2009 MLB Amateur Draft out of the University of Missouri. And it comes after one of Gibson’s poorest seasons; he was 2-6 with 5.35 ERA in 2020.

But he’s been strong in spring training this year. He threw four no-hit innings with six strikeouts Wednesday against Arizona, against whom he continued to experiment with using a cut fastball. It’s a pitch he briefly unveiled last year, and has continued to work on this spring.

“I think it’s as good as I’ve executed pitches in a long time,” Gibson said Wednesday. “I’m not throwing cutters just to throw them anymore. I’m using them when it makes sense to against a hitter.”

The performance continues a spring that Gibson has described as “different” in a good way.

“I don’t know that I’ve felt this physically ready for spring training since going into 2018,” Gibson said as this year’s spring training opened, referencing some past health issues. “I had to make do with where I was at, but this year, I definitely feel different. I feel like the workouts have allowed me to prepare physically in a different way.”

That’s good for the Rangers, who finished last in the AL West last season (22-38) and haven’t made the postseason since 2016. They have a young pitching rotation, leaving the 33-year-old Gibson as the oldest. Starting with Opening Day, the manager is looking for Gibson to lead.

“[Gibson is] probably our No. 1 guy, just pushing the culture and being a leader,” Woodward said last month. “The guy’s tremendous in every way. He is an exceptional human being, he’s a competitor, he’s willing to listen and takes criticism. He’s just exactly what we want out of our players, so he’s a perfect example for our guys to look up to.”

As for Gibson, his example is Christ. He’s long been an outspoken believer who says he aims to show his teammates who Christ is through the way he acts and treats others. In a 2019 video for The Increase, he explained how everyone is an evangelist.

“To me, it’s how I talk, how I live, the conversations I have, how I parent and how I love my wife — all of those things can evangelize [to] people in a silent way or in a verbal way,” he said. “We’ve gotten away from ‘here’s the pastor with the Bible in front of us and he’s the evangelist,’ to ‘we are the body of Christ and we are always on mission and always living out the Word in order to spread the love and evangelize.'”

Gibson also displays his faith in serving others. He’s long been a big part of Big League Impact, through which Gibson and Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright (the organization’s founder) teamed up with Garth Brooks last year to deliver more than 4 million meals to children across the country who rely on school meals.

A leader off the field and on, Gibson will be relied upon to guide the Rangers in 2021. His performance in 12 games last year didn’t meet anyone’s expectations, but after a strong offseason and spring, he looks ready to return to or improve upon his 2019 form, which saw him go 13-7.

He gets the first chance to set the tone for the team’s season.

RELATED STORIES: 
— 21 MLB Players to Watch in 2021
Garth Brooks joins Adam Wainwright, Kyle Gibson to serve 4 million meals to kids
Former Minnesota Twins pitcher Kyle Gibson signs with Texas Rangers
INCREASE VIDEO: Everybody is an Evangelist – Kyle Gibson
NEW PODCAST: Kyle Gibson, Minnesota Twins Pitcher