When beginning my series Bright Futures, the Minnesota Twins had a plethora of low-ceiling talent in their system. I was highlighting the top 10 prospects – at least my top 10 – and writing mini-biographies on each person to let Twins fans get to know the player’s abilities, stats, and history. Whelp, after several moves this offseason acquiring some solid pitching prospects, the Twins have forced my hand in adjusting my top 10… because of those arms in the system, I don’t mind one bit.
Previously I had featured two hitters, Nate Roberts and Travis Harrison, who would be considered “wild cards” in anyone’s top 10 list of Twins prospects, but I trusted my instinct and highlighted their appeal to the organization. However, once the Twins acquired pitching prospects Alex Meyer and Trevor May in trades this offseason, I had to boot Roberts and Harrison from the list… no hard feelings, guys. After revising the list, Max Kepler moves down to the no. 10 prospect, more so because of his age and athleticism than anything. The rest of the original names are yet to be featured, but perhaps in a different order than originally thought.
Bright Future: Kyle Gibson
Being drafted by the Twins in the first round of the 2009 MLB draft, Kyle Gibson brought height (6’6″), poise, and exceptional control of three above average to plus pitches in his sinking fastball, slider and changeup. Coming out of the University of Missouri, Gibson is the type of arm the Twins staff covet so much: a college pitcher with control who can rise quickly through the system to the big leagues, a la Scott Baker and Glen Perkins.
During his first few seasons in the Twins organization, Gibson enjoyed some early successes against younger competition in High-A Ft. Myers. This success resulted in him being promoted to Double-A New Britain and even a brief stint in Triple-A Rochester before the 2010 season was complete. Because he zipped through the system so quickly, Twins fans and staff alike were very high on the lanky right-handed pitcher. Many believed Gibson would make his Minnesota Twins debut sometime throughout the 2011 season – as did I.
Gibson started the 2011 campaign right where he left off the 2010 season, entering June with a 3.60 ERA and striking out 59 batters through 55 innings. While trying to pitch through some discomfort in his right elbow, his numbers declined rapidly which caused him to get his elbow looked at by doctors. After multiple opinions it was clear that he had a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament, resulting in Tommy John surgery to repair it.
Despite losing the rest of his 2011 season to injury, the hope was that Gibson would regain his dominance over hitters once his injury healed, and that was certainly the case during his 2012 come back. Pitching in only 28.1 innings for multiple levels of the Twins minor league system, Gibson was able to prove he had his “stuff” back by striking out 33 hitters while only walking 6 others. His ERA was just over 4.00, but all that really mattered was the strength shown in his arm.
However, it wasn’t until playing in the Arizona Fall League where he was able to show how over-powering he could be. Earning Player of the Week honors because of an impressive performance resulting in eight strikeouts over five innings, Gibson was proving how capable he was at mowing down hitters while keeping opponent’s contact to the ground. Early success in the AFL – highlighted by my “Worm Killer” post- shed light on Gibson’s abilities and bolstered Twins fan’s expectations. Despite struggling his last few outings, the AFL provided a boost of confidence in the young pitcher, which he expressed in an interview with MLB.com:
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.
Experiencing a higher average velocity on his fastball during the AFL of 93-95 mph, compared to a previous 90-92 mph fastball, is an encouraging sign moving forward for Gibson. The movement and control is still there and after some more innings this upcoming season we’ll be able to more accurately predict his projectability forthcoming.
At one point Gibson was the best overall pitching prospect in the Twins system, but after the acquisitions of Alex Meyer and Trevor May, he has the opportunity to sit comfortably in a #3 or #4 slot in the Twins future rotation. Twins GM Terry Ryan has done an excellent job bringing in great, young arms to bolster a pedestrian pitching rotation; he also unintentionally, or intentionally, has lifted the burden of being the team’s future “ace” off Gibson’s shoulders which will allow him to take his time and pitch to his ability. Meyer and May aren’t necessarily ready for the title of “ace” either, but project to be those front-line starters ahead of Gibson. Looking forward, a 2014 rotation of Alex Meyer, Vance Worley, Scott Diamond, Trevor May and Kyle Gibson sounds like an excellent time for Twins fans, an excellent time indeed.
Projection: Gibson is one of those prospects who came out of college and isn’t “young” by baseball standards, but at age 25, he is close to exiting the title of “prospect” and on to the title of “minor league journeyman” or “major leaguer”. I highly doubt he’ll be stranded in the minors for years to come, he has too much ability and uses his pitches well. Also, realizing that his slider is a little raw from surgery and choosing to use his changeup more instead is an impressive note at how much understanding and control he has over his body. His stock has certainly risen once again now that his velocity is sitting in the 93-95 range with excellent downward motion. I’m excited to see where he’s going to start the season after Spring Training, but keep in mind he will be on a Stephen Strasburg-type innings count this year to protect his rebuilt elbow. My expectations see him starting the year in Triple-A Rochester, but an impressive Spring Training can very well embed him in the Opening Day starting rotation. You will for sure see Gibson this season in a Twins uniform, but it’s the 2014 season that really has me interested. I expect him to be a solid #2 guy in the rotation, but with the talent now in the Twins system, he could be an excellent #3 or #4 guy in what could be an impressive rotation in the coming season.