La Velle E. Neal III has covered baseball for the Star Tribune since 1998 (the post-Knoblauch era). Born and raised in Chicago, he grew up following the White Sox and hating the Cubs. He attended both the University of Illinois and Illinois-Chicago and began his baseball writing career at the Kansas City Star. He can be heard occasionally on KFAN radio, lending his great baseball mind to Paul Allen and other hosts. Mark Rosen borrows him occasionally for WCCO-TV.

Minor details: Gibson, Slama, Benson, Hicks, Buxton, Berrios

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: August 9, 2012 - 2:15 PM

GIBSON READY FOR FORT MYERS

Righthander Kyle Gibson is just moving down the street, but it's a sign of progress in his return from Tommy John surgery.

Gibson, the Twins' first-round pick in 2009, is joining Class A Fort Myers this week as he continues to work his way back. In nine games (seven starts) for the Twins' rookie team in the Gulf Coast League, Gibson posted a 2.45 ERA with four walks and 16 strikeouts in 142/3 innings.

He will follow Carl Pavano on Sunday and throw around 50 pitches.

"He's thrown the ball well," said Jim Rantz, the Twins director of minor leagues. "He's even throwing a little harder than he did before he was hurt."

Gibson hasn't thrown more than three innings in an outing yet. But the Twins still hope he can reach 40  innings pitched by the end of the minor league season. In fact, they would like to see him finish the year out at Class AAA Rochester, if all goes well.

"We want to give him as much competition as possible and see how it goes," Rantz said.

Gibson is expected to pitch somewhere during the offseason, most likely the Arizona Fall League.

For Pavano, it will be the second outing of his comeback from shoulder weakness. He has not pitched for the Twins since June 1.

SLAMA TIME AGAIN

Righthander Anthony Slama had a 0.40 and 10 saves in 20 appearances for Rochester when he suffered a fractured lower leg when struck by a line drive on June 7. It probably cost him a trip to the majors, given the transactions the Twins have needed to make this season.

Slama has wrapped up a rehab stint with the GCL Twins and is now headed back to Rochester in hopes of finishing the season strong.

THE NEW BRITAIN QUARTET

Class AA New Britain has an interesting group of outfielders - Aaron Hicks, Oswaldo Arcia, Joe Benson and Rene Tosoni.

After a slow start, Hicks batted .288 in June (in 17 games), then .318 in July. So far this month, Hicks is batting .367. The Twins have been waiting for the 2008 first-round draft pick to put it together and it's starting to happen more consistently. Overall, he's batting .283 with 12 homers, 53 RBI and a .382 on base percentage.

Rantz said the Twins would like Hicks to play winter ball this offseason to continue his development.
"He needs to get challenged a little more," Rantz said.

After being promoted from Class A Fort Myers, Arcia is batting .317 in 45 games with New Britain with 6 homers and 42 RBI. He's put himself in position to make his debut next season, perhaps this September if the Twins decide to reward him for a good season.

The two odd cases are Benson, batting .212 and Tosoni (.221), who began the year at Rochester and did not handle failure well.

Benson batted .179 in 28 games at Rochester before being sent down to New Britain. But things got worse for him when he broke the hamate bone in his wrist and missed several weeks. He's trying to salvage his season but is batting .128 over his last 10 games.

"His emotions sometimes get the best of him," Rantz said. "He has to figure it out."

Tosoni has had similar struggles. He started slowly, was demoted, injured his shoulder and is still struggling.
Both players saw time in the majors last season.

WHEELER DEALS

Lefthander Jason Wheeler is listed at 6 feet, 8 inches tall and 265 pounds. He doesn't throw hard (88-90 mph) but has a good slider and change up and was Midwest League player of the month for July.

Wheeler, and eighth-round pick in 2011 out of Loyola Marymount, is 12-5, 3.34 overall but was 4-0, 2.03 last month to earn league honors. He took the loss on Saturday despite giving up two runs over eight innings.

SOMETHING THEY GOT RIGHT

Kudos to MLB for moving up the signing deadline a month. It's allowed teams to get their draftees locked up instead of negotiations dragging on to the point where the player ends up with a summer off.

It benefits the team, the player and the affiliates.

Look at how it helps the player. Outfielder Byron Buxton, the second overall pick of the June draft, and righthander Jose Berrios, the 32nd overall pick, already have been promoted from the GCL Twins to Elizabethton of the Appalachian League. Rantz said on Thursday that both of them now have a chance to open the 2013 season at Class A Beloit

Buxton batted .216 with 4 homers and 14 RBI for the GCL Twins in 27 games. He got off to a bad start (1-for-13) but 11 of his 19 hits went for extra bases. Berrios has been impressive, walking three batters and striking out 27 in 16.2 innings for the GCL Twins before moving on.

Other players from this year's draft - lefthander Mason Melotakis (second round), righthander Zachary Jones (fourth),
righthander D.J. Baxendale (10th), lefthander Taylor Rogers (11th) - are all at Beloit now after starting at Elizabethon - something that might not have happened if some negotiations had dragged on. Everyone wins this way.
 

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