Drew Gilbert drew rave reviews in high school for his ability and potential on the mound. Gilbert, a Stillwater, Minnesota native, was a left-handed pitcher and outfielder during his prep career, but most scouts envisioned him on the mound in the future.
Gilbert didn’t necessarily have a preference, though. He was willing to play both positions and received the opportunity as a two-way player from the University of Tennessee.
However, his collegiate career as a two-way player hasn’t transpired as most expected. This season, he is only a position player for Tennessee after serving as the team’s starting center fielder and making 11 relief appearances in his first two years.
The decision to focus exclusively on one position has paid off for Gilbert. He’s hitting .403 with 12 doubles, two triples, three home runs and 33 RBIs. This season’s success has caused scouts to consider him a top prospect in the 2022 MLB draft.
“I just like playing baseball,” Gilbert said. “I was underdeveloped as a hitter in high school and focused more on pitching. When I got here, I got a ton of reps as a position player. I feel like I progressed as a position player thanks to the coaches and competition around me.”
Gilbert garnered significant draft interest out of high school. He would have been a top-five-round pick, but his desire to experience college baseball caused him to fall to his hometown Minnesota Twins in the 35th round of the 2019 draft.
Now three years later, Gilbert is in the mix to go early in July’s draft. He has enhanced his skills as a position player during his time at Tennessee. He also possesses the five-tool potential and attributes scouts desire in an early-round pick.
Gilbert isn’t caught up in the draft attention, though. Instead, his focus is on leading Tennessee to its first-ever national championship this season.
“With the draft, I don’t pay too much attention to it,” Gilbert said. “It is so far down the road, and there is nothing I can control. It is out of my control. I can control how I go about my business every day and try to be the best teammate I can be. Right now, my focus is helping this team win.”
Gilbert is a 5-foot-9, 185-pound center fielder with a well-balanced toolset and a team-first and energetic personality that teammates gravitate towards.
Offensively, the left-handed hitter uses a slightly open stance and quick and compact swing to drive the ball to all fields. He shows a nice blend of power and speed. He profiles as a top-of-the-order hitter in pro ball and has a solid approach and plate discipline.
Defensively, Gilbert has all the attributes to remain in center field long term. Besides his speed, he has above-average arm strength and the ability to make plays from gap to gap.
“I feel like I am extremely competitive,” Gilbert said. “The only thing I really care about is winning.”
Gilbert raves about his experience and development at Tennessee. He initially committed to Oregon State University. But after legendary coach Pat Casey retired, Gilbert requested a release from his National Letter of Intent.
Before his freshman year of college in June 2019, Gilbert switched his commitment from Oregon State to Tennessee. Coach Tony Vitello sold Gilbert on the program’s trajectory and the winning culture he had established in his first two years at the helm of Tennessee baseball.
In Gilbert’s three years, Tennessee has been one of the top programs in college baseball. After posting a 15-2 record in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Tennessee went 50-18 and earned a trip to the College World Series last season.
Tennessee has a remarkable 31-1 record to start the season. The Volunteers are the top-ranked team in college baseball, with their only loss coming to then-No. 1 Texas in a neutral site game on March 4.
“He and the coaching staff have truly built something special,” Gilbert said. “It’s a great atmosphere and culture. You have every opportunity here. It has been everything I thought it would be, and it has been fun to see it progress.”
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Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for seven years. He has interviewed 356 of the top draft prospects in that period, including four No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today, MLB.com and The Arizona Republic, have quoted his work, while he has appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.