The philosophy of the Twins has always been to take a cautious, safe route with prospects. Outfielder Aaron Hicks, the 14th overall pick by the Twins in the 2008 draft, just finally reached High A Fort Myers after spending two years at Low A Beloit. Nick Blackburn spent parts of six seasons in the minors. Kevin Slowey and Scott Baker were considered fast risers in the Twins organization, each spending only five seasons in the minors.
Kyle Gibson is clearly a different type of prospect, as shown by his rapid ascension through the Twins farm system.
Listed as the Twins No. 1 prospect by Baseball America, the right-handed Gibson spent 2010 throwing quality start after quality start. The Twins moved Gibson to AAA Rochester on August 13. An Eastern League All-Star, Gibson compiled an 11-6 record with a 2.96 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and a scintilating 3.23 K/BB ratio in 152 innings in a season that started in Fort Myers and ended with Gibson clearly establishing himself as Minnesota’s best pitching prospect since Francisco Liriano.
In the 2009 MLB Draft, concerns about a stress fracture in Gibson’s right arm allowed the Missouri Tigers star to fall into the Twins lap at pick 22. The Twins played it safe with Gibson, choosing to keep him off a professional mound until the start of the 2010 season to make sure that his injury would heal completely and there were no lasting effects.
At 6-foot-6 and 210 pounds, Kyle Gibson has the frame that scouts drool over. His collection of pitches includes a heavy 2-seamer with sink that sits around 90-93, a sharp 80-83 MPH slider, and a fading changeup that has undoubtedly improved since his college career ended. The slider and changeup both have generated a lot of strikeouts for Gibson, who tallied 126 punchouts last season. The improved changeup is interesting because it was considered Gibson’s weakest pitch at the time he was selected. The Twins have a history of developing changeups in starters (I think that Johan Santana guy had a decent one), so it’s very encouraging and important that Gibson now has three pitches that he can rely on.
Gibson’s best trait is his ability to induce ground balls. His 2010 2.38 GO/AO (groundout to all other outs) ratio shows that he has the type of stuff that simply makes it difficult for hitters to square up against. That rate is even higher (3.33) in the admittedly small sample size that 2011 has produced.
By the way, speaking of 2011, Gibson has shown no signs of slowing down. On April 21st, Gibson took a no-hitter into the seventh inning against Buffalo before giving up a solo home run that ended his outing.
That is not to say that there are no concerns with Gibson either. His pre-draft arm injury is still concerning and obviously the reason why the Twins were able to draft the guy in the first place. His delivery hasn’t really concerned scouts much, but the arm is a fragile tool and injuries that early in a career mean that yellow flags will follow Gibson for awhile, if not his entire career.
The other concern with Gibson will be his ability to miss bats in the major leagues. While he has shown decent strikeout totals in the minors (7.5 K/9), he does not have premium velocity as previously mentioned. This is what prevents him from being touted as a future No. 1, and I won’t disagree with that. Gibson still projects as a solid No. 2 for many years for the Twins and appears to be as safe a bet as any in the entire minors to at least be an effective starter.
As far as when this guy will actually get to the big league level, I think a lot of that depends on the situation of the major league team. Gibson is ready to pitch in the major leagues right now but there is somewhat of a logjam in the Twins rotation. I don’t know if they will want to bring him up just to contribute from the bullpen, particularly when he’s had so much success as a starter to begin his career. If the Twins struggles leak into July or August, you could very well see Gibson in the starting rotation in 2011. If not this year, you have to believe that the Twins will open up a spot in 2012’s rotation if their No. 1 prospect continues his success throughout this season. Time will tell with Kyle Gibson, but the Twins look like they’ve found a gem.
Stay healthy, Kyle.