Mike Trout is the toast of the baseball town. He was called up to the Majors on April 28 and has literally been the most valuable player in either league since that day. He has hit for power, stolen bases and made some outstanding catches in the outfield. Any team would be lucky to have a player like Trout, and he just turned 21, in case you needed extra convincing.
Kyle Gibson has a bright future as well. Odds are, he will not suffer another injury as debilitating as he is recovering from. He was a top tier prospect for the Twins with great control. His AAA numbers last year looked bad, but if you looked closer, he did have a good strikeout rate, a great walk rate and a strikeout to walk ratio well above 3. While many would compare him to Brad Radke, he might have actually had more ability than Radke, who was a Twins mainstay for about a decade.
Every single GM in baseball would take Trout over Gibson right now and going forward. Gibson still could be a number 3 starter on a good team, but Trout could end up as the best player in the AL for the next 10-15 years. Trout vs. Gibson is a 1st round knockout.
That is not to say that every GM would have taken Trout over Gibson 3 years ago. Gibson was taken 22nd by the Twins and Trout was taken 25th by the Angels. In fact, 21 teams passed on Trout, with Washington and Arizona passing on him twice (imagine Trout with Harper and Strasburg!). Anaheim even passed on him once, although, they had consecutive picks, so there was no risk in losing him. That seems crazy now, but Trout came from a part of the country that is not known for baseball. Therefore, some wondered if he was just a big fish in a small pond.
Turns out, Trout is a whale shark. Enough fish puns though.
So, this is not a critique of the Twins' front office. They had taken Aaron Hicks, a toolsy, slick-fielding, cannon-armed, power projectable outfielder, just one year earlier. While you should take the best player available in drafts, Gibson also fit the Twins' profile for a starting pitcher. He flew through the minor leagues, and likely would have been in Minnesota last September, had he not been injured. He will be only 25 years old next season, and likely will spend at least some time with the Twins in 2013.
So, what if the Twins had drafted Mike Trout in 2009?
First, I doubt Trout would be tearing up MLB pitching in 2012 in a Twins uniform. The Twins do not rush prospects, although, Trout was obviously not rushed. However, my gut says that Trout would be in AAA right now, at the highest. His minor league numbers aren't so insane that he would have forced the Twins' hand. He was good enough that he would have likely split years at different levels, as he did with the Angels, but he almost certainly would not have been called up in 2011 at age 19 with the Twins. The Trout Phenomenon would have almost certainly have started later, but I do not think he would be any less a player had the Twins drafted him; it just might have taken longer to find out. He likely would have debuted in September of this year, or possibly even mid- to late-2013.
Second, Gibson almost certainly would still have all of his original ligaments. No, that's not true. Gibson would have been just as likely to get hurt with any other team. You cannot predict health with pitchers and Gibson could have just as easily blown his arm out pitching with another team. Although, I do think that he may have done so in the Majors. Gibson had pitched 3 years at Missouri, and was therefore 21 years old when drafted. In their 2010 prospect rankings, Baseball America listed his MLB ETA as 2011. By the way, those same rankings had Gibson rated 61st and Trout 85th as prospects in all of baseball. So, while Gibson has never reached the majors in real life, in this What If scenario, he may have.
Finally, the Twins would have the number 1 prospect in baseball right now. As I said before, I think he would be in AAA at the highest, but I also think he would be coming up to the MLB any day. In fact, he may have been a very recent call-up, as Trout would make Denard Span an even better trade chip for the Twins. They might have been more willing to trade Span back in July for some pitching help, under this scenario. They would need even more pitching help, as they never drafted Kyle Gibson, and therefore do not have any sort of starting pitching prospect in the system.
This type of transaction is not likely one that can change a franchise in the short-term. The 2012 Twins would likely still be a bad team with terrible starting pitching. Trout would be an exciting player for the fans, but ultimately would not make them a playoff team. This can be seen with the current version of the Angels, as they are falling dangerously close to missing out on the playoffs this year, even with Trout. The 2015 Twins might have been another story. A player like Mike Trout has the ability to be an MVP caliber player for many years. He has power, speed, and defense, at a premium position. While he cannot win a World Series on his own, he is a fantastic start for a rebuilding club.
Kyle Gibson is the only actual Twin between the two players. Pre-surgery Gibson never threw the ball through a wall, and hopefully can reclaim the control and command that he had before his elbow issues. If he can, he still has the ability to be a number 3 starter in the MLB. If the Twins knew they would be getting a number 3 starter with the 22nd pick in any draft, they would take that every time. Gibson is no Trout, but he can still prove to be a good draft pick for the Twins.
(Note: As I was writing this, Mike Trout hit a freaking missile out of the park off Felix Hernandez. I guess he felt I wasn't giving him enough credit.)