Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Gibson could be the 2013 Opening Day starter

The injury to Kyle Gibson's arm last year put a damper on what was suppose to be a big season in his life. At this point last year, there were many who thought Gibson only missed out on a spot in the rotation because the Twins had too many other arms who were already on the big league roster. The overall consensus was that Gibson would be making his debut in 2011 and he would go on to be a member of the starting rotation for the foreseeable future.

This plan didn't go exactly as the Twins had hoped and in September Gibson was forced to go under the knife for Tommy John surgery. The team's number one pitching prospect would be pushed to the sidelines for most of the next season and the organization had to start taking a hard look at some of their other pitching options. Liam Hendriks showed a few positive signs in the last month of the season but there are few other top prospects in the high levels of the minor leagues.

When a player is coming off of a major arm injury like Gibson, it is hard to imagine him coming back and being ready to go at full force after taking 12 months to rehabilitate his arm. That being said, there is the possibility that Gibson could be in line to be the Opening Day starter for the Twins at the beginning of the 2013 season. A lot of things would have to go right before the first pitch of next year but there is enough evidence to make this look like it could be a possibility.

The members of the starting rotation that are under contract for next year are few and far between. Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, and Carl Pavano can all become free agents at the end of the 2012 season. This leaves Nick Blackburn as the lone member of this year's projected starting rotation that is under contract for the start of the 2013 campaign. It is scary to think of Blackburn as the Twins number one starter for next year but it also means an injury to his arm and the Twins could be looking in a new direction.

The Washington Nationals have put together a blueprint for the Twins to follow when it comes to a top pitching prospect who is recovering from Tommy John surgery. Stephen Strasburg, the number one pick in the same draft as Gibson, has been working his way back from the same type of injury. Gibson's surgery was in September of 2011 and Strasburg went under the knife in September of 2010. Since the timeline for recovery is around 12-months, the Strasburg plan is a realistic one for the Twins to mimic. This would mean that Gibson could complete a variety of minor league starts to work his way back to the Triple-A level. If the team thought he was ready, he could make his debut at the end of the 2012 season. 

Last week the Nationals announced that Strasburg would be the team's Opening Day starter in his first full season back from surgery. Even with the honor of starting the first game of the season, Strasburg will be on an innings limit as the team has stated that he will only pitch 160 innings before being shut down for the year. It will be interesting to see if the Twins use a similar scenario with Gibson to try and reduce some of the strain on his arm in his first full season since the surgery. A lot will depend on how his body reacts to being back on the mound in the later portion of the upcoming season.

Gibson is hardly the favorite to be on the mound for Opening Day next year but it isn't out of the realm of possibility to imagine a situation where he could be given the starting nod. He would most certainly have to debut at some point in the 2012 season because the team wouldn't allow a starter to be making his debut on Opening Day. The team would also have to be confident that Gibson was completely healthy and ready to handle the rigors of a full season at the MLB level. It might be in Gibson's best interests to get a handful of starts under his belt with Rochester before getting called up to take his spot in the starting rotation.

It is also hard to know what the team will do on the free agent market. Will the Twins go after a big name pitcher to fill a role in the rotation? Could Liriano, Baker or Pavano be back with the club?

These are questions to be pondered over by Terry Ryan and some of the other front office brass for the Twins. A situation where Gibson would be the number one starter on Opening Day could be a tough sell to fans of the Twins. Recovering from a major injury can be a tough road for a lot of players and the main hope for fans of the organization is to have a healthy and productive Gibson in the starting rotation for 2013.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

If I was asked today (and I haven't been, mind you), I would guess that 1 of Liriano, Baker or Pavano will return next year. The scary thing is, I can imagine it being Pavano.

But you make a good point that the door is wide open for Gibson -- or any other pitcher that shows he is ready -- to have a place in the rotation in 2013.