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After undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in September, Twins prospect Kyle Gibson is expected to pitch later this season.

Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

Twins prospect Gibson tries to be a patient with patience

  • Article by: LA VELLE E. NEAL III
  • Star Tribune
  • February 29, 2012 - 7:42 AM

FORT MYERS, FLA. - While the Twins worked out last week at the Lee County Sport Complex, Kyle Gibson ran up and down the stairs at Hammond Stadium.

Gibson led a contingent of minor leaguers that included fellow pitchers Dallas Gallant, Dan Osterbrock, Kane Holbrooks and Dakota Watts. All are either rehabilitating injuries or are early arrivals before minor league camp opens March 6.

Gibson peeked over at several pitchers throwing in the bullpen and wondered what it would be like to be there with them, competing for a spot in the 2012 rotation.

That was the scenario Twins officials envisioned before the organization's top pitching prospect underwent Tommy John elbow surgery last September, which will sideline him for most of the season.

"Going over there and running the stadium and seeing them throw bullpens and seeing them work out and then knowing they are [a few] days away from [games] getting started," Gibson lamented, "it's getting a little bit harder because I know I'm not going to be able to do everything."

While Twins players are counting down the days to Saturday's start of spring training games, Gibson is counting down to June 7, when he can throw in the bullpen for the first time since he had surgery.

The righthander is restricted to tosses from 50 feet away right now. He's been cleared to lift weights and go through full workouts.

Tommy John surgery knocks pitchers out for at least a year because it requires a lengthy rehabilitation period that can be monotonous and isolate the player from his teammates. Gibson, on his Twitter feed two weeks ago, expressed excitement over being cleared to throw on back-to-back days.

Baby steps. But his wife, Elizabeth, is with him in Fort Myers, so he doesn't feel like he's going through it alone. And his father, Harold, calls from Indiana to make sure he stays focused.

"I'm excited about where I'm at," Gibson said, "but at the same time I know there's possibly going to be setbacks. When I start throwing back-to-back days and it feels good, then it will be a little bit more exciting."

Gibson's right elbow has been scrutinized going back to 2009, his final year at the University of Missouri. He suffered a forearm strain that sometimes can be a precursor to elbow ligament problems. Gibson underwent exams and sent out medical reports to clubs to prove he was OK, but health concerns caused him to slip to the 22nd pick of the first round, where he was selected by the Twins.

In 2010, Gibson began the season at Class A Fort Myers, moved to Class AA New Britain and ended at Class AAA Rochester, going a combined 11-6 with a 2.96 ERA at the three levels. He boasts an excellent sinking fastball, impressive slider and good changeup. Some believed then that he had as much talent as any Twins starter.

Everything was looking up for 2011. There was speculation about when he would receive The Call to the Twins. But during a June 30 start against Pawtucket, Gibson began to feel discomfort in the elbow. He rested, pitched in the All-Star Futures game, then made two starts after that.

It wasn't getting any better. Two or three innings would be fine, then soreness in the middle innings. During a July 22 outing in Indianapolis -- near his hometown of Greenfield, Indiana -- Gibson remembers struggling to get through the fourth and fifth innings. He was shut down, and the subsequent exam revealed a torn ulnar collateral ligament.

"When the doctor told me I did have a torn ligament, I wasn't too surprised because it hadn't gotten much better," Gibson said. "I was just relieved really. We didn't have to guess what it was anymore.

"The pain I felt on June 30 was completely different than what I felt in college."

The payoff for his rehab will come late this season, because the Twins have every intention of letting Gibson pitch in some minor-league games.

"I think we anticipate him pitching this summer. In fact, I don't think, I know," Twins General Manager Terry Ryan said. "It's not anything different than the schedule."

Ryan said it doesn't matter which level Gibson pitches at, as long as he gets some innings and heads into the offseason with some momentum.

"We want to make sure he's right before we expose him too much," Ryan said. "If we have to start him in A-ball or in Double-A, I don't care where he starts, that's not important. Actually it's where he ends up in the end. If he's 100 percent, we'll be very pleased about that, but yes, you can anticipate him pitching competitively this summer."

For Gibson, who has been patient and realistic since the surgery, being ready for 2013 is what has driven him through his rehab. Knowing he could pitch before the year is over is a big step toward his goal of being a factor with the Twins.

"When it comes to 2013 spring training, I'm going to feel like I have something to prove," he said. "Prove that I am healthy and prove I can go out there and compete at a high level. That is something I'm going to try to do."

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