For a while, the Twins were renowned throughout baseball for their ability to develop young pitching. Pitchers like Johan Santana, Francisco Liriano, Carlos Silva, and Scott Baker were all developed by the Twins and became crucial components of the Twins’ stretch of six AL West title in nine years from 2002 to 2010. However, the past couple of years and especially in 2012, the Twins saw their pitching completely fall apart, and as they hope to recapture their glory from just a few years ago, the key will be to find some way to get their starting rotation back on track. The Twins still have a lot of work to do in that regard, but they may have one pitcher ready to play a part in turning around their big league rotation as soon as next season.
Kyle Gibson, who turned 25 years of age just a few days ago, was the Twins’ first round pick in 2009 out of the University of Missouri and proceeded to dazzle in his first pro season in 2010, going 11-6 with a 7.5 K/9, a 2.3 BB/9, and a 0.4 HR/9 in 26 starts and 152 IP as he worked his way up from High-A all the way to Triple-A. Gibson had established himself as one of the best prospects in baseball and it looked like he would be breaking into the big leagues before long. But Gibson had mixed results through July of 2011, going just 3-8 with a 4.81 ERA before being sidelined with elbow discomfort. It then was discovered that Gibson had a tear in his ulnar collateral ligament, necessitating Tommy John Surgery on July 23rd, 2011. Gibson didn’t get back into a professional game until just under a year later, July 10th, 2012. During the minor league regular season in 2012, Gibson made 13 appearances spanning just 28.1 innings as he worked his way back little by little. Then the Twins decided to completely change course and challenge Gibson, sending him to the Arizona Fall League. The pressure was squarely on Gibson to prove that he still had the ability to be a topflight starter in the major leagues. Gibson has more than lived up to the challenge. In three Arizona Fall League starts for the Peoria Javelinas, Gibson has gone 3-0 with a 0.69 ERA, striking out 19 while walking just 2 in 13 innings pitched.
Gibson, who is 6’6″, 210, throws a fastball that sits in the low-90′s, touching 94 MPH. Gibson gets a great downward plane on his fastball, getting great sink on it and commanding it extremely well down in the zone. It features sharp almost cutter-like action on it at times and generates a good amount of swing-and-misses. But when Gibson needs a strikeout, his go-to pitch is his mid-80′s slider, which comes out of the same arm slot as his fastball before featuring devastating break that baffles hitters. You can’t forget his third pitch either, a mid-80′s changeup with nice downward movement that also looks like his fastball out of his hand. Gibson also bears the unmistakable mark of a Twins pitching prospect, great control, but that’s just one part of his impressive ability as a pitcher. Gibson has overpowered hitter after hitter in the AFL and has the ability to own major league hitters like no one else the Twins have right now.
Gibson is already 25 years old, injury prone, and still hasn’t debuted in the big leagues. However, he brings to the table the pure stuff to dominate hitters and become a frontline starter in the major leagues, and it looks like it’s him or no one for the Twins at this point. Gibson has thrown just 126.2 innings the past two years and a key for him will be to stay on the mound and build up the durability to provide the top-of-the-rotation presence the Twins desperately need. But he has shown this fall that he has the ability to do exactly that. How much can 13 innings change the entire outlook of a pitcher’s career? The answer is not so much. The Twins believe, though, that Gibson’s dominance this fall is more than just a flicker of promise that is going to go to waste again. There are no guarantees with Gibson moving forward, but the Twins are optimistic that the pitcher blowing by hitters in the Arizona Fall League right now is the same pitcher who is going to be an anchor in their starting rotation for years to come.