Once referred to as the top pitching prospect in the Minnesota Twins’ farm system, Kyle Gibson’s journey to the major leagues has not always gone according to plan. Now over a year removed from Tommy John surgery, Gibson is preparing for his first season as an integral part of the Twins pitching rotation.
The rotation has seen its fair share of changes this off-season with new faces like Rich Harden, Kevin Correia, Vance Worley, and Mike Pelfrey joining a pool of returning pitchers led by Scott Diamond, to form a starting pitching staff with its fair share of question marks. Gibson and Twins General Manager Terry Ryan, however, believe that Gibson’s return to the rotation is a major step in the right direction for turning around the Twins’ tumultuous pitching staff.
Ryan referred to Gibson as, “A pitcher with three ‘plus pitches’: his fastball, slider and change-up.” Gibson has always had the talent to compete at the major league level, which led to his selection at number 22 overall by the Twins in the 2009 Amateur Draft and being named Twins Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2010; however it was the elbow injury—and subsequent surgery on Sept. 9, 2011—that has put into question Gibson’s future as a stalwart in the Twins rotation.
“I had always been used to a 108-109 pitch limit throughout college, so the type of soreness I was feeling (in elbow) was not something I hadn’t experience before” Gibson stated when describing how his elbow felt after he suffered the injury in Aug. of 2011. “One day my elbow would feel better and the next day it would be sore again and so the doctors and I decided that I should go get it checked out; that’s when they discovered I had a stress fracture in my ulna bone” recalled Gibson.
Gibson preached optimism about his recovery and states that he feels confident in his arm and is not hesitant to “cut it loose” this season; a season in which the Twins could use his production and health to stabilize a rotation for the future. Ryan believes the Twins will use an inning limit similar to the one that the Washington Nationals used with pitcher Stephen Strasburg this past season while easing Gibson back into action. When asked about an inning estimate for the season, Ryan stated that he believed Gibson would pitch, “Between 130 and 150 innings, but a lot depends on the type of outings—5 innings versus 7 innings—that he has and how his arm feels”
It is clear that the future of Gibson still looms large in the plans and future for the Twins’ pitching staff. Gibson’s growth and return could provide a bright spot for the Twins during a season that may be closer to 90 losses than 90 wins. Many pitchers undergo this type of surgery and it is not uncommon for those pitchers to come back stronger than before. The talent was there before the injury and from all indications, it hasn’t gone anywhere.
Gibson went 3-2 with a 5.40 ERA while striking out 28—compared to only 8 walks—over 23.1 innings in six games started in the Arizona Fall League. While the ERA may not look impressive, the strikeouts do leave room for optimism as Gibson regains his confidence and form. I look for Gibson to have a solid debut season for the Twins this year, providing much needed optimism for a future rotation of Worley, Gibson, Diamond and highly touted prospects Trevor May and Alex Meyer.