FORT MYERS, FLA. - Twins outfielder Jason Repko stepped into the batter's box against Kyle Gibson on Wednesday and saw why the club considers the righthander to be its top pitching prospect.
"I got in there and was taking it seriously," Repko said. "He throws a pitch and, out of his hand, I'm thinking it's a ball. Then it tails back over the outside corner."
Gibson knew exactly which pitch Repko was talking about, his sinking fastball. He can throw away to righthanders and watch it caress the outside corner or throw at a lefthanded hitter's hip and watch it break toward the inside corner.
"That was a big pitch for me last year," Gibson said.
Gibson's sinker is just one reason why the Twins and talent evaluators are high on him. His slider is another. His changeup is another. His willingness to change speeds, work both sides of the plate and be unpredictable are others.
The whole package has the Twins thinking they have a good one in Gibson, 23, whom they drafted out of the University of Missouri in the first round in 2009. Gibson is ranked as the 34th-best prospect in the game by Baseball America.
He went 11-6 with a 2.96 ERA in 26 minor league starts last season, starting the year at Class A Fort Myers, then spending most of it at Class AA New Britain before ending the season with three starts at Class AAA Rochester.
In 152 innings on three levels, the 6-6 Gibson struck out 126 and walked 39 while holding opponents to a .242 batting average. His fastball sits around 91-92 miles an hour. He won't always miss bats. His sinker and slider are so good that he might break a few bats. Twins officials feel he's more than a command and control pitcher.
Despite having just one year of pro experience, Gibson already is in the group of pitchers the Twins would consider calling up if they need help.
"He's elevated himself to probably be put in that mix," said Mike Radcliff, the Twins' vice president in charge of player personnel. "He still has to prove he can take that last step, which sometimes is a really big step."
Gibson's biggest issue is that the Twins, at least on paper, already have one too many starters for the rotation.
"Everyone has the itch of getting to the big leagues as fast as they can," Gibson said. "At the same time I know the Twins are a club that knows when their guys are ready and when they should bring them up."
The Twins selected Gibson with the 22nd overall pick. He was mentioned as a lock to be among the top 10 selections. Why he dropped to the Twins is their good fortune.
Gibson, while completing his junior year at Missouri, began experiencing arm soreness. And his velocity dropped. He felt terrible warming up but would be fine by the second inning.
"Since it wasn't in my elbow I wasn't too worried," Gibson said.
He was having problems with his forearm. Sometimes forearm trouble leads to elbow ligament problems. And that was a red flag to some clubs scouting him.
"It seems like three weeks before the draft I didn't talk to anyone past pick 15," Gibson said. "The week of the draft I didn't talk to anyone before pick 15."
Harold Gibson, Kyle's father, estimated that his son was throwing 84-85 miles per hour during the NCAA regionals. The family knew there would be questions. So Gibson underwent an MRI exam that revealed what they suspected: He had a stress fracture. He needed to be shut down, but there was no damage to his ligament.
"People didn't believe us," Howard Gibson said.
With the draft days away, Gibson underwent another MRI of his elbow -- a few days after the first one -- as well as his shoulder. Both came back clean. The family sent out word of the latest results. Teams called to request copies of the exam, with the Twins one of the first. Boston called looking for copies of the MRI and the Gibsons were all out.
Gibson still dropped some on draft day, signing for $1.6 million with the Twins.
"I still think [the fracture] caused some people to shy away from him," Harold Gibson said. "You know what, it couldn't be a better situation. We couldn't be in a better place."
Said Radcliff: "We still took a risk. He was hurt at the time, but we pulled the trigger."
Gibson threw about 100 innings his final year in college and 152 last season. The Twins probably won't let him throw more than 175 to 180 this year to make sure there's not a big jump in workload.
"We're going to have to be aware of that and monitor that," Radcliff said.
The way Gibson shot through the system last year, and the way he startled Repko during batting practice is more evidence the Twins made the right choice and have an above-average prospect nearly ready.
"He is a very important part of our future," Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson said. "It will be fun to get him out there [in spring training] and see what he has."