Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Kyle Gibson Is Ready To Break Out

Mar 10, 2015; Dunedin, FL, USA; Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Kyle Gibson (44) talks with catcher Eric Fryer (26) during the first inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at a spring training game at Florida Auto Exchange Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports 
Over the offseason, the Minnesota Twins went out and brought in Ervin Santana on a free agent deal to bolster their starting rotation. Having a second year of Phil Hughes that could conceivably be better than the first, the Twins now have two strong options on the mound. A third option has emerged this spring, and Kyle Gibson is ready to join the group.

If his latest spring training start is a flash of what's to come, we should all be extremely excited. Before dissecting his most recent outing, it's worth noting what Gibson has done this spring as a whole. In the three games he has started, he's pitched 9.0 innings total. Giving up just seven hits and two earned runs, Gibson has struck out six while walking only two. He has also held opposing hitters to a lowly .226 average. Although a small sample size, the numbers suggest that the early returns have been promising.

Then there was his outing Sunday against the St. Louis Cardinals, where Gibson took promising and blew it out of the water. Throwing four innings and 60 pitches, the Twins former first round pick pounded the zone early and often. He threw 39 strikes while throwing nine first pitch strikes to the 14 batters he faced. Although not a strikeout pitcher, he did rack up four strikeouts while causing seven swings and misses. Recording 12 outs, Gibson was able to get 11 of them by way of groundout or strikeout. Being a sinkerball pitcher, this is exactly what the Twins want to see from their former top prospect.

Now with a lights out and inspiring spring performance, the question is where does Gibson go from here?

Back in 2011, Gibson underwent Tommy John surgery delaying his eventual debut in the big leagues. Sitting out much of the 2012 season, and not reaching the majors until late in 2013, 2014 was Gibson's first true big league season. A 4.47 ERA and 1.310 WHIP aren't marks that Gibson is going to hang his hat on, but there's significant room for the expectations to rise. Last season, Gibson owned a 3.80 FIP (fielding independent pitching). This suggests that he was in fact bit by a Twins defense behind him that was not where it should be. Although conventional wisdom suggests that could be even worse this season, the shifting in the outfield may actually work out to the detriment of what statistical analysis may say.

Prior to his Tommy John surgery, Gibson owned minor league numbers with a K/9 north of 8.0 and a BB/9 below 3.0. At the major league level thus far, Gibson has failed to push his K/9 above 5.4 and has hovered around the 3.0 BB/9 mark. As he continues to distance himself from the surgery, there is significant reason to believe that his numbers will continue to trend upwards. Again, a small sample size, but this spring Gibson has fanned batters at a 6.0 K/9 rate while owning a 2.0 BB/9 mark.

Following his start on Sunday, Gibson noted that his pitches were where he wanted them to be, and this early in that's a great thing. He said, "The slider was about as good as it's been in any of my last three starts. My change-up's been as I'd hope it would be against righties, so that's a pitch that's really showed up well for me." If Gibson is able to utilize his sinker while mixing in a solid slider and curveball, the Twins infield should be in a great position to limit damage any time the former Missouri Tiger is on the mound.

Knowing that both Hughes and Santana are penciled into the rotation, Gibson is surely looking to carve out his place on the team. There's no doubt he's going to be amongst the starting five, but the rise to be considered one of the team's top starters is one that has just begun. 2015 has plenty of Twins players looking at breakout campaigns, but of them, Gibson may be the most intriguing. Although he may never be dominant on his own, Gibson possesses the stuff to be regarded as a front of the rotation guy, and we're likely to see that begin soon.

As he continues to ramp up (Molitor expects him to throw around 75 pitches his next time out) Gibson will continue to work on things to take north. Once April hits, expect Kyle Gibson to hit the ground running and put together an impressive campaign for the 2015 Twins.