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Continued: Kyle Gibson: Ready to prove he has the right stuff

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Last update: November 21, 2012 - 10:52 AM

PEORIA, ARIZ.

The late-morning desert sun was pushing temperatures toward 90 degrees at the Arizona Fall League as Kyle Gibson began discussing the rising heat -- on his fastball.

Sitting at a picnic table, with his twice-scarred right elbow tucked to his side, the Twins' 2009 first-round draft pick had a hard time containing his smile.

Gibson had Tommy John ligament replacement surgery on his right elbow on Sept. 7, 2011, but now he looks as good as new, if not better. His average fastball velocity has jumped from 89 to 90 miles per hour pre-surgery to about 92-93 mph in Arizona.

"My stuff is the best it's ever been," Gibson said earlier this month. "I feel better than I've ever felt. I have a little bit more on my fastball. Everything's moving a little bit differently, and it just feels a little more comfortable, really."

Gibson, 25, spent the fall re- establishing himself as the Twins' top pitching prospect and was added to the 40-man roster Tuesday. When he reports to spring training next February, he'll be 17 months removed from elbow surgery and a viable candidate to start the season in the big-league rotation -- if the team lets that happen.

As badly as the Twins need starting pitching, General Manager Terry Ryan remains cautious about Gibson.

"Let's keep it in perspective," Ryan said. "Don't get too carried away with, 'Well, he's dominated all these levels.' He hasn't pitched that many innings in the minor leagues [275 2/3 for his career]. So he'll come in and compete for a spot."

Other major-league scouts believe the 6-6 righthander still has the potential to be a strong No. 2 starter on a championship-caliber team -- an ace by the Twins' recent standards, at least. Even Ryan sounds giddy when he starts rattling off Gibson's attributes.

"He looks like they're supposed to look," Ryan said. "He's got the nice frame. He's got a good delivery. He's got a three-pitch mix. He throws plenty hard enough. He can spin the ball, and he can throw his off-speed. He's a good athlete. He's a good kid."

Lessons learned

Growing up in Greenfield, Ind., about 25 miles east of Indianapolis, Gibson lived in a basketball hotbed, but baseball was his passion. In first grade, he wrote a paper, stating his goal of playing in the major leagues.

"He was so easy to raise," said Gibson's father, Harold, who helped coach his traveling teams. "He would do anything I asked him. If I told him to hold the bat the wrong way, upside down, he would have been trying to find a way to do it."

Gibson's path toward his goal was not smooth. He fractured the growth plate in his right elbow during his freshman year of high school and required surgery. It was a repetitive stress injury; all those long hours of practice had caught up to him.

The recovery went well, but it gave Gibson and his family a wake-up call.

"We might have been living our life through baseball," Harold Gibson said. "Kyle took on a different appreciation for what was important. He said, 'If I don't pitch another day in my life, it's OK. I've got other things.'

"And I think that's helped him a bunch. Baseball isn't life. It's something he loves to do."

Gibson had two good seasons at Greenfield High School, but he wasn't a prized recruit. He still had growing to do. As a senior in 2006, he was 6-3, 160 pounds. Missouri was one of the few colleges to offer a scholarship, and he wasn't drafted until the 36th round, by the Phillies.

"I was really skinny and didn't really throw that hard," Gibson said. "I think senior year, I was throwing 86-91 [miles per hour], so it wasn't like I was a super prospect."

Gibson chose to attend Missouri, defying his father, who thought he should sign with the Phillies.

"I was so upset with him," Harold Gibson said. "We hardly talked for a week. I said, 'Do you know how many kids would kill to be in your position?' He said, 'Dad, I don't want to go to the minors. I want to go to the majors.'"

Gibson knew he wasn't physically ready for professional baseball. He got taller and filled out his slender frame at Missouri. By his junior year, he was listed as a potential top-10 draft pick.

But his stock plunged late that season, when he developed a stress fracture in his right forearm, about four inches from the elbow. The injury healed with two months of rest, but it caused Gibson to fall to the 22nd overall pick in the 2009 draft, where the Twins grabbed him and eventually signed him for $1.85 million.

The Twins were among many teams that passed on outfielder Mike Trout, who went to the Angels at No. 25 and recently won the American League Rookie of the Year award and finished second in the AL MVP voting at age 21. But the Gibson selection sure looked good in 2010, when he climbed from Class A to Class AAA, going 11-6 with a 2.96 ERA in 26 combined starts.

Another injury

The Twins invited Gibson to big-league camp in 2011, and he made a good impression before returning to Class AAA Rochester. He seemed a sure bet to join the Twins later that year, but after a strong April, his season unraveled. By August, he was diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament. Dr. David Altchek performed the Tommy John procedure a month later.

"I've been really lucky," Gibson said. "The whole process, it almost seemed too easy. The [Twins] training staff and Dr. Altchek's staff laid it out really, really well. And for the most part, I was blessed. I didn't have any setbacks."

Gibson returned to a mound by July and pitched 28 1/3 innings at three stops in the minors, including two games for Rochester. His first two starts in the Fall League were eye-openers: He allowed one run in 10 innings, with 16 strikeouts and no walks.

"I've seen him at his best, before he was injured, and he's similar to that now," said Mike Radcliff, the Twins vice president of player personnel. "He doesn't have the sharpness of the slider that he did in the past, but velocity, approach, remaining in control, usability of all three [pitches], he's about the same."

Close to the goal

The Fall League is considered a finishing school for baseball's top prospects, and Gibson's final four outings were pretty rocky. He finished 3-2 with a 5.40 ERA, but the Twins' biggest takeaway from 2012 is that Gibson has been able to rack up about 75-80 innings, counting his controlled workouts in Fort Myers, Fla.

The Washington Nationals famously shut down Stephen Strasburg this September after 159 1/3 innings, in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery. The Twins have hinted they won't let Gibson throw more than 140 innings next year; it's worth noting that his career high for innings pitched was 152 in 2010.

"I don't think you ought to put a strict number on [Gibson's 2013 innings limit]," Ryan said. "I still believe it's more about pitches per outing and how [the innings] accumulate and the way he gets through a particular game and so forth. But we're certainly going to monitor him."

The Nationals were widely panned for shutting down Strasburg, while the Braves were generally praised for how they handled Kris Medlen. In his first year back from Tommy John surgery, Medlen opened the year in Atlanta's bullpen. After moving to the rotation on July 31, he went 9-0 with a 0.97 ERA in 12 starts and finished the year with 144 1/3 innings pitched, counting the postseason.

"I know the Twins have talked about a couple scenarios," Gibson said. "I really can't control any of that. They're going to set my innings limit. I'm not going to have any say in that because if I did, I would say 180 innings, and I'm ready to go."

Gibson said he's ready for anything, even if it means opening another season in the minors. But at some point next year, the dream he wrote about in first grade could come true.

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Toronto - LP: D. Hutchison 2 FINAL
NY Yankees - WP: M. Tanaka 5
Washington - WP: S. Strasburg 2 FINAL
Miami - LP: N. Eovaldi 1
NY Mets - WP: J. deGrom 10 FINAL
Atlanta - LP: E. Santana 2
Boston - WP: J. Kelly 3 FINAL
Baltimore - LP: M. Gonzalez 2
Milwaukee - LP: W. Peralta 0 FINAL
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Chicago WSox - WP: J. Danks 10 FINAL
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Detroit - LP: R. Porcello 2 FINAL
Kansas City - WP: J. Guthrie 5
Seattle - LP: H. Iwakuma 3 FINAL
Houston - WP: C. McHugh 8
Los Angeles - WP: C. Perez 8 FINAL
Chicago Cubs - LP: J. Turner 5
Texas - WP: S. Tolleson 2 FINAL
LA Angels - LP: H. Street 1
Philadelphia - LP: M. Gonzalez 6 FINAL
Oakland - WP: S. Doolittle 8
San Francisco - LP: R. Vogelsong 2 FINAL
San Diego - WP: I. Kennedy 8
Arizona - LP: W. Miley 3 FINAL
Colorado - WP: C. Bergman 8
Cincinnati - WP: A. Simon 7 FINAL
St. Louis - LP: L. Lynn 2
San Diego 22 FINAL
Buffalo 10
Dallas 34 FINAL
St. Louis 31
Washington 34 FINAL
Philadelphia 37
Houston 17 FINAL
NY Giants 30
Minnesota 9 FINAL
New Orleans 20
Tennessee 7 FINAL
Cincinnati 33
Baltimore 23 FINAL
Cleveland 21
Green Bay 7 FINAL
Detroit 19
Indianapolis 44 FINAL
Jacksonville 17
Oakland 9 FINAL
New England 16
San Francisco 14 FINAL
Arizona 23
Denver 20 FINAL
Seattle 26
Kansas City 34 FINAL
Miami 15
Pittsburgh 37 FINAL
Carolina 19
Chicago 7:30 PM
NY Jets
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Washington
Columbus 4 FINAL
Carolina 3
Buffalo 0 FINAL
Washington 1
St. Louis 3 FINAL
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Calgary 1 FINAL
Edmonton 3
Edmonton 0 FINAL
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Old Dominion 45 FINAL
Rice 42
Troy 0 FINAL
(12) Georgia 66
Georgia Tech 27 FINAL
Virginia Tech 24
Eastern Mich 14 FINAL
(9) Michigan State 73
Iowa 24 FINAL
Pittsburgh 20
Bowling Green 17 FINAL
(19) Wisconsin 68
Maryland 34 FINAL
Syracuse 20
Tulane 13 FINAL
Duke 47
Hawaii 12 FINAL
Colorado 21
Marshall 48 FINAL
Akron 17
North Carolina 41 FINAL
(23) East Carolina 70
Army 21 FINAL
Wake Forest 24
Virginia 33 FINAL
(20) BYU 41
(6) Texas A&M 58 FINAL
SMU 6
Rutgers 31 FINAL
Navy 24
Central Mich 10 FINAL
Kansas 24
Utah 26 FINAL
Michigan 10
Florida 21 FINAL
(3) Alabama 42
Louisville 34 FINAL
FIU 3
Fla Atlantic 19 FINAL
Wyoming 20
Indiana 31 FINAL
Missouri 27
San Jose St 7 FINAL
Minnesota 24
Texas State 35 FINAL
Illinois 42
Massachusetts 7 FINAL
Penn State 48
Georgia State 14 FINAL
Washington 45
Appalachian St 20 FINAL
Southern Miss 21
(14) Miss State 34 FINAL
(17) LSU 29
Northern Ill 14 FINAL
Arkansas 52
Middle Tennessee 17 FINAL
Memphis 36
Utah State 14 FINAL
Arkansas State 21
Miami-Ohio 24 FINAL
Cincinnati 31
Idaho 24 FINAL
Ohio U 36
Ball State 23 FINAL
Toledo 34
(13) So Carolina 48 FINAL
Vanderbilt 34
(4) Oklahoma 45 FINAL
West Virginia 33
Ga Southern 28 FINAL
South Alabama 6
UNLV 14 FINAL
Houston 47
Miami-Florida 31 FINAL
(21) Nebraska 41
New Mexico 38 FINAL
New Mexico St 35
Clemson 17 FINAL
(1) Florida State 23
California 45 FINAL
Arizona 49
San Diego St 7 FINAL
Oregon State 28
(2) Oregon 38 FINAL
Washington St 31
Louisiana 9 FINAL
Boise State 34
Texas Tech 9/25/14 6:30 PM
(24) Oklahoma State
Appalachian St 9/25/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
(11) UCLA 9/25/14 9:00 PM
(15) Arizona State
Middle Tennessee 9/26/14 7:00 PM
Old Dominion
Fresno State 9/26/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
Texas-El Paso 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(25) Kansas State
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(12) Georgia
Vanderbilt 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Kentucky
Wyoming 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(9) Michigan State
Northwestern 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
TCU 9/27/14 11:00 AM
SMU
Iowa 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Tulane 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Rutgers
So Florida 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(19) Wisconsin
Colorado State 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Western Mich 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Virginia Tech
Maryland 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Indiana
Akron 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Pittsburgh
Bowling Green 9/27/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Arkansas 9/27/14 2:30 PM
(6) Texas A&M
Kent State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Virginia
Western Ky 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Navy
Minnesota 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Michigan
Wake Forest 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Louisville
FIU 9/27/14 2:30 PM
UAB
(1) Florida State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
NC State
Miami-Ohio 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Colorado 9/27/14 3:00 PM
California
Louisiana Tech 9/27/14 3:00 PM
(5) Auburn
Texas 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Kansas
Temple 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Connecticut
(16) Stanford 9/27/14 3:15 PM
Washington
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Clemson
Central Mich 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Toledo
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(17) LSU
Memphis 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(10) Ole Miss
Duke 9/27/14 6:30 PM
Miami-Florida
Texas State 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Washington St 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Utah
(8) Notre Dame 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Syracuse
(7) Baylor 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Iowa State
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(21) Nebraska
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(18) USC
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Toronto 40 FINAL
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Montreal 31
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