Kyle-a-palooza? Gibsanity? Gibsmas?
Whatever you wanted to call it, Kyle Gibson's debut on Saturday generated a palpable buzz throughout Twins Territory. Eagerly awaited and long overdue, the rookie's arrival aids a pitching staff in the midst of its third straight year of sub-mediocrity.
He doesn't profile as one of the league's elite pitchers, but Gibson is likely the best pitching prospect to graduate from the Twins' system since Matt Garza in 2006, and he showed why in his debut.
Gibson came as advertised, delivering with high velocity and impressive command from an imposing 6'6" frame. The 25-year-old exhibited no signs of jitters as he fired 64 of 91 pitches for strikes and issued no walks. The Royals managed eight hits in six innings, but few of them were hit hard and Gibson limited the damage to two runs in an easy victory.
Some voices have warned that expectations for the right-hander might be getting out of hand. Even his ardent supporters will admit that Gibson probably doesn't have the upside of a top-tier pitcher in the major leagues.
But so what? There was an awful lot to like in Saturday's performance. Gibson displayed poise that was, in light of all he has gone through to get to this point, shocking. He peppered the lower regions of the strike zone with a heavy fastball that routinely whizzed in at 92-93 MPH and occasionally touched 95. That's a number Twins fans aren't accustomed to seeing with anyone other than Glen Perkins on the hill.
It might be that "so overrated he's underrated" phenomenon, but I get the sense that some actually are underselling Gibson's ability to an extent. In his first big-league game, he was constantly locating a power sinker around knee level, mixing in breaking balls that made people miss. He's done these things throughout his career, when healthy. Guys with that type of stuff/command combo often excel in the majors, and if Saturday was any indication, Gibson has the makeup to match.
Will he ever be Stephen Strasburg? No. But can he be the No. 1 starter in a quality rotation? I'd say so. Keep in mind the Twins haven't had a true "ace" since Johan Santana's departure, and have still made the playoffs twice since then.
Of course, it's not Gibson that the Twins are eyeing as the next arm to earn that vaunted ace label. That would be Alex Meyer, who was acquired in return for Denard Span during the offseason. When he came over from Washington, Meyer instantly became the highest-upside pitcher in the system.
The ideal scenario was that Meyer and Gibson (and perhaps Trevor May, if he ever refined his control enough) could join forces atop the embattled Minnesota rotation, helping usher in a return to contention sooner rather than later.
Unfortunately, as well as things are currently going for Gibson, the developments surrounding Meyer have been far more troubling. The 24-year-old hasn't pitched in a month due to shoulder soreness, and there now appears some doubt over whether he'll pitch again this year.
Asked earlier this month about the prospect's status, Ryan said that MRI results had come back clean and that Meyer was fine
, adding, "I don't think anybody thought it was that serious." Twins fans breathed a sigh of relief.
And yet, three weeks later, Meyer still has not pitched competitively. It doesn't look like he's especially close to doing so. Over the weekend, New Britain manager Jeff Smith had this to say
about the righty: "Hopefully by the end of the season, really just later in the season, he'll be able to pitch in some games." Matt Straub, who covers the Rock Cats for the New Britain Herald, inferred
that to mean Meyer would be out for at least the entire month of July.
The Twins insist that they're just playing it cautious with Meyer, who is on a throwing program in Ft. Myers, but it's tough not to be alarmed with the indefinite return date. Shoulder problems are always scary for young hurlers, and Meyer -- whose delivery is high-stress, as he delivers in the upper-90s from a wiry 6'9" build with a three-quarters arm slot -- has always presented more risk than most.
Hopefully, this truly is an instance where the team is taking every possible precaution with a young man who might be the single most important asset in the entire organization at this point. But fans will find little comfort in Ryan's assertions that everything is fine, especially when we now know this to be the front office's initial assurance in the case of every injury, even those that prove severe.
And hell, maybe we should be worrying a little more about Gibson's shoulders. After all, he's carrying a heavy burden as one of the brightest hopes for the Twins' rotation for the foreseeable future. Until Meyer successfully returns to the mound or May takes a step forward, Gibson alone will be labeled with that designation.