Minnesota Twins rookie right-hander Kyle Gibson makes his major league debut today against the Kansas City Royals at Target Field. The Twins have been quite cautious with their handling of Gibson, but he has nothing left to prove in the minors and is expected to be a mainstay on the pitching staff going forward. Let's take a look at him as today's Prospect of the Day.
Gibson began his career at the University of Missouri with a solid freshman campaign in 2007, going 8-3, 4.2 with a 77/19 K/BB ratio in 68 innings. He improved to 9-4, 3.84 with a 96/23 K/BB in 87 innings in 2008, impressed scouts in summer ball, and was considered a top candidate for the draft entering the spring of '09. He dominated early and was talked about as a top five choice, but a loss of velocity late in the college season and worries about the health of his arm hurt his stock at the last minute. He still went 11-3, 3.21 with a 131/19 K/BB in 107 innings, but fell to the 22nd-overall choice in the first round,signing for $1,850,000.
Gibson was very effective in 2010, dominating High-A and holding his own in Double-A and Triple-A, although his velocity was inconsistent. He started strong for Triple-A Rochester in 2011, but by June his velocity had dropped again and there was clearly something wrong with him. He was eventually shut down with a 4.81 ERA in 95 innings and had Tommy John surgery. He came back in the second half of 2012, then looked completely healthy in last season's Arizona Fall League. This year he has a 3.01 ERA with a 79/28 K/BB in 93 innings for Rochester with 78 hits allowed.
Overall, in his minor league career Gibson is 21-21 with a 3.54 ERA and a 329/100 K/BB ratio in 369 innings with 349 hits and 25 homers allowed.
Gibson is a 6-6, 210 pound right-hander, born October 23, 1987. He's always demonstrated a good feel for pitching, throwing quality strikes with his fastball, changeup, and slider. The changeup and slider are plus pitches at their best, keeping hitters off-balance. Heat-wise, he uses both two-seam and four-seam fastballs, picking up plenty of ground balls with the former. His velocity tops out at 95 MPH on his best days since recovering from Tommy John, though he works more commonly at 91-94.
His fastball sagged into the 80s during his bouts of arm trouble, although even at the lower velocities he could still be effective at times due to his superior command. Sabermetrically speaking, his strikeouts rates are decent rather than excellent, but his strong ground ball tendency helps him avoid excessive home runs and big innings. His delivery is consistent from pitch to pitch and his feel for his craft is strong.
Gibson is already 25, quite mature for a top pitching prospect, thanks to the year lost to injury and Minnesota's conservative handling of him. Triple-A isn't going to teach him anything else, and Gibson will have a long leash in a starting rotation that needs someone who can provide quality innings.