Wednesday, February 26, 2014

14 Minnesota Twins to Watch in '14: Kyle Gibson

Everyone loves a good Major League Debut.  The ever expanding availability of prospect and Minor League coverage gives fans a good idea of who players are before they ever play for their favorite team.  Not all prospects are household names, but certain Minor Leaguers are as well-known as the biggest stars on the team.  Pitcher debuts are scheduled days in advance and as a result, fanfare can be built up by local media.  You'll hear stories about the player, stories from the player and then you get to watch him pitch.  Last season, a former first-round pick made his MLB debut and understandably, it was a spectacle.  

The 6th most important Twins player in 2014 is Kyle Gibson.

Who is he? 

Gibson was the Twins' first-round selection back in 2009.  The Twins drafted him out of the University of Missouri and hoped that he would move quickly and join the rotation within a couple of years.  Early on, that looked like reality, as Gibson reached AAA in his first professional season.  His second pro season did not go well.  He struggled at AAA, posting a 4.81 ERA in 18 starts.  Even worse, he went down with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery.  He returned briefly in 2012, then went to the Arizona Fall League and dominated. 

Gibson headed back to AAA for 2013 and looked mostly great.  His stuff had returned to pre-injury form, but he was somewhat inconsistent at the beginning of 2013 (this became a running joke, but then proved to be a legitimate concern).  Even so, he earned a late-June promotion and made his MLB debut on June 29.  He threw six innings, gave up 2 earned runs on 8 hits, while striking out 5 and walking none.  Untortunately, this would prove to be his best start for the Twins.  He made nine more starts, ended with a disappointing 6.53 ERA and earned a demotion back to AAA in late August. 

Gibson's MLB debut was memorable, but his rookie season did not go as hoped.  

Why is he important?

Gibson is important for all of the same reasons the Twins drafted him five years ago.  Gibson is durable and consistent.  He has good stuff and better command.  His fastball is good, his slider is good and his change is good.  All of those attributes add up to what appears to be an effective number 3 starter.  Unfortunately, he didn't show off many of those attributes in 2013 and he certainly didn't show them with the Twins. 

That said, he was just one year removed from major elbow surgery.  He was on an innings limit and he had only made 38 starts in AAA.  He WAS inconsistent in the first half of the season, often following a good start with a poor start.  He was good enough that he deserved a chance in the Majors, but it wasn't that surprising that he was inconsistent with the Twins.  He's still made just 10 starts as a Twin and he won't be a free agent until 2020, when he'll be 33.  Basically, the Twins will get his entire peak.

Paul the Positive Puma's Take:

It would be easy to discount Gibson because of his time with the Twins in 2013.  Honestly, he didn't look great.  He gave up a lot of hits, a lot of home runs and he walked more batters than he can overcome.  Gibson was advertised as a command-specialist who would get ground balls and just enough strikeouts to be effective.  He didn't strike out a lot of batters in 2013.  His command often looked shaky too, which certainly didn't help him when he got into trouble.    

That said, there are plenty of stats that make me think that Gibson was really unlucky in those ten starts.  First, his BABIP was .350 and that is very high.  .294 was the ML average in 2013.  Gibson did induce ground balls at a 50.3% rate, a figure that bodes well for Gibson in the long-term, but didn't pair well with that high BABIP.  He also had a 66.5% strand rate, seven points below the ML average.  Basically, when runners got on base, more scored than scored against the average pitcher.  Finally, even though Gibson induced a lot of ground balls, the fly balls he gave up went over the fence far too frequently.  His home run-to-fly ball ratio was 13.5%, three points over the ML average.

If given time to allow those figures to regress to the mean a bit, Gibson's luck should change.  The Twins would be wise to let those numbers even out in the Majors. 

Peter the Pessimistic Puma's Take:

I did not like what I saw from Gibson in 2013.  His stuff was unimpressive and he gave up a lot of big innings.  It seemed like when things started to go bad, they just kept getting worse.  Gibson didn't show any ability to get out of a jam and he often made things worse by walking hitters with other runners on base.  I had read that Gibson was a guy who didn't give up many walks.  While Radke-clones bore me to death, there is something nice about knowing your pitcher won't give batters a free base.  Gibson didn't look like a Radke-clone to me.  

Plus, has anyone pointed out how old Gibson is?  He's already 26 and he has had exactly one good MLB start.  He's one month younger than Vance Worley, and everyone seems ready to kick Worley to the curb.  At least Worley had a good MLB season.  Has Gibson?  I understand that Gibson was injured and that he was an older draftee, but most pitchers have had some MLB success by 26.  Those who haven't often never do.  I don't want to get too negative here, but it's hard for me to get too excited about a guy who can't crack a 8.0 K/9 in AAA at age 25.  Gibson might have an MLB future, but I don't see anything more than a back-of-the-rotation starter.    

What to look for in '14:

Gibson will battle with Scott Diamond, Vance Worley, and Sam Deduno for the fifth rotation spot.  Gibson is the only player of the four with Minor League options, making him the darkest of dark horses.  However, as happened last year, if Gibson pitches well, he could be in line for a call-up at any moment.  Gibson is the youngest of the four (barely though, just one month younger than Worley as pointed out by our negative puma friend) and probably the most talented as well.  With the luck the Twins have had with their rotation over the last few seasons, they likely will need all the starters they can find and Gibson will find his way to the Majors before long.

While a lot of attention will be placed on where Gibson starts his season, where he finishes is likely more important.  Gibson is too talented and too advanced to pitch a full season with Rochester.  He needs at least a half-season with the Twins, so the team can gauge how much Gibson can contribute to their future.  The Twins already know that Gibson can handle AAA hitters, but they aren't in the business of developing AAA starters.  Right now, Gibson is one of the five most talented starters on the Twins' 40-man roster and you can make the argument that he's in their top three. 

Guys like Deduno, Diamond, Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey are not worth keeping Gibson from MLB starts.  Those guys are fine, but Gibson could be much better than fine.  The Twins have to know what they have in Gibson when 2015 starts and the only way to know for sure is to see how he handles another round of MLB hitters. 

I'll be back later this week with the 5th most important Twins player in 2014.  Have a nice day, everyone!

If you haven't been paying close attention, I'm counting down the 14 most important Twins players for the 2014 season.  This was just one part in a 14-part series.  If you missed any of the previous installments, just click here as I have put them all in one nice, tidy location for you.  I'm the best.

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