The Minnesota Twins first round draft pick (22nd overall), Kyle Gibson, is currently playing for the Peoria Javelinas in the Arizona Fall League (AFL). The AFL is notoriously known for being a “hitters” league, but that has not stopped Gibson from enjoying success in the desert. He has posted excellent numbers in his two appearances since joining the Javelinas and is well on his way to shaking off the rust from his Tommy John surgery back in 2011.
In his two games, Gibson has a stat line of 10 IP 1 H 0 BB 16 K 0.90 ERA. Those numbers are quite impressive, especially his 14.4 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched. Gibson’s K/9 rate will not stay that high forever, and that is just fine, but the most interesting number is his GO/AO (ground ball out/air ball out) of 3.00 through those 10 innings. A 3.00 GO/AO rate is insanely incredible, and rivals well-known ground ball pitchers such as Derek Lowe (3.12) and Tim Hudson (3.71). Gibson’s 3.00 roughly translates to about 57% of the balls hit in play being ground balls. His combination of strikeout rate, ground ball rate, and command, considering he has not walked a batter yet, is even more remarkable then any of those numbers alone. All stats considered, 10 innings pitched is not the greatest sample size to project how he will do in the upcoming season, but for the time being they sure are nice to see.
Another number to keep an eye on is Gibson’s velocity. Before his Tommy John surgery, Gibson’s fastball was clocked in the 89-91 range with a lot of downward movement. Since joining the AFL, scouts have seen his fastball in the 93-95 range with the same, if not more downward movement. In an interview with MLB.com, Gibson, when asked about his velocity taking off, talks about how his arm is doing since the surgery and how effortless the ball leaves his hand now:
“To be honest, I guess it just feels like when I’m playing catch sometimes, it doesn’t even feel like I’m throwing the ball. When I’m feeling good, it feels a little bit more effortless. It could be that I’m using my legs more, I have no idea. But for some reason, it feels a little bit different. I can’t really explain it, but it’s different.”
For the young pitcher, Twins fans, and the organization, this is arguably the best news of the offseason so far. Projecting Gibson’s success for next year is impossible at this point, but his “stuff”, a plus slider and good changeup that compliment his plus fastball, is filthy. With proper coaching he is forecasted to be a viable no. 2 starter in the Majors. However Twins fans, expect him to have a Stephen Strasburg-type inning count if he does make an appearance for the Twins next season. Gibson is showing some excellent strides to achieving his goal of pitching in Minnesota, but he is coming off Tommy John surgery and the last thing the organization needs is to watch him get over-worked and hurt. Until next year, we all get the luxury of watching him progress in the AFL and hopefully translate this success for the years upcoming.
One last item of concern: hopefully the name “Worm Killer”, a nickname tweeted by 1500espn.com personnel, Phil Mackey, representing Derek Lowe‘s innate ability to produce ground balls against the Twins in Cleveland (20 out of 28 balls hit in play were ground balls), will catch on. I think it is fantastic. The nickname is unusual, simple, and unique enough to be a standard for ground ball inducing pitchers, so might as well start with Gibson.