Thursday, June 27, 2013

A Checklist for Kyle Gibson

The 2009 MLB Draft has to feel like eons ago to Mr. Kyle Gibson. He was supposed to be a high first round pick but some injury concerns caused him to drop to the Twins with the 22nd pick. In 2010, he went on a tear through the Twins farm system as he started in High-A and finished the year at Triple-A. The club named him the minor league pitcher of the year and he looked to be one step away from the big leagues.

Tommy John surgery would halt his progress in 2011 and he has been slowly working his way back to get ready for a special moment this weekend. On Saturday afternoon at Target Field, Gibson will get to walk out onto a big league mound for the first time. A life-long dream will be realized and there can be plenty of pressure when a person is making their MLB debut.

Here are some important tips for Gibson to keep in mind as he prepares for Saturday.

1. Don't shoot for a perfect game
Only 23 pitchers in major league history have accomplished this feat so it might not be the easiest mark to shoot for in your debut outing. There have been even fewer rookies to throw no-hitters (20) so this might also not be a realistic goal. The only pitcher to toss a no-hitter in his first major league start was Bobo Holloman in 1953. He only pitched one season and accumulated a 5.23 ERA. The last American League rookie starter to have a no-hitter was Clay Buchholz in 2007 and he did it in his second major league start.

2. Don't try to strike everyone out
There can be some worries surrounding pitchers as they come back from Tommy John surgery. Will they be able to regain their old form? Are they still going to be consistent on the mound? In his first full season back from Tommy John, Gibson has averaged 7.6 strikeouts per nine innings. During April, that number was close to 8.7 but he wasn't able to pitch further into games and his other numbers suffered. In 2010, his last full season before Tommy John surgery, Gibson averaged 7.4 strikeouts per nine innings. He spent the first two months of the season dominating High-A so those numbers can be a little skewed.

3. There are going to be some rookie moments
Bert Blyleven gave up a home run to the first batter he faced and he still went on to have a Hall-of-Fame career. At some point, Gibson will give up a long ball and runs are going to get scored against him. For the most part, he had done a good job of keeping the ball in the park this season by limiting opponents to four home runs in 92.2 innings. In his minor league career, he had a 1.22 WHIP and he average 8.5 hits per nine innings. There will be some base runners but it's important how he reacts when those runners are on base.

4. This season is about development
While the Twins are still in the vicinity of the .500 mark, this season is all about preparing players for the future. The key for Gibson is to be able to control his fastball. From there, his other pitches can be more effective. One of his biggest weaknesses this spring was some of his off-speed offerings. He's had almost 100 innings this season to get back his comfort level with his breaking pitches. Big league hitters can tee off on badly placed fastballs especially if there isn't a threat of a breaking pitch being anywhere near the plate. He needs to use all of his pitches and find some consistency.

5. Success can come in a variety of forms
Some Twins fans might consider this the team motto for the last couple of seasons. Gibson isn't going to be Matt Harvey or Gerrit Cole. Fans might think Gibson is that level of prospect because his name has been around in the Twins organization for a few years. Let's make something clear... he isn't an elite pitching prospect. In this Twins rotation, he could turn into the ace of the staff but that's not saying much. If he reaches his full potential, he should be in the Twins rotation for the better part of the next decade. He can be a solid number two or number three starter if he gets everything right. There will be flashes of brilliance and some rough outings along the way. He's the first of some high level pitching prospects to reach the majors and there will be plenty of pressure on him to succeed.

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