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Twins' Kyle Gibson heating up in Arizona

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Just over a year removed from his Tommy John surgery, Twins pitching prospect Kyle Gibson has made two encouraging starts in Arizona, firing 92-to-95-mph bullets and keeping the game’s top prospects off-balanced with an 83-86-mph slider.

That’s right: Hitting 95 miles per hour according to the Pitch F/X system in Arizona.

Let’s take a look at why his AFL performance should give Twins fans hope.

According to MLB.com, Gibson has been aware of the velocity increase and views it as a positive sign:

Before the injury, Gibson relied on the slider and changeup as his out pitches. Since returning to the mound, he's seen that his fastball has picked up a tick of velocity.

"The average speed on my fastball is up a little bit, so I'm having to learn with that," he said. "Each pitch is a little different. I don't have to pitch differently, but I have to use them in different ways and trust my fastball more 'cause it has more life on it. It has been a learning curve to use three pitches that have been acting a little bit differently, but it could be good."
According to BrooksBaseball.net, Gibson’s fastball/sinker combination was caught at the 2011 Futures Game registering 91.8/91.3-mile per hour, respectively, by the Pitch F/X cameras. So far in the Arizona Fall League this year, those same pitches are averaging 93.3/93.2 miles per hour, very much up a “tick.”

Gibson said he had been working on refining his mechanics, something that was critiqued at the time of his draft, and that is one factor behind the added velocity:

Standing 6-foot-6, Gibson was forced to work on mechanics throughout his recovery to make sure he stayed sharp and not regress further before throwing again.

"I'm a very mechanical guy because as tall and lanky as I am, they can get off a little bit," Gibson explained. "It's more about keeping my weight back, letting my front side travel and going forward with my arm."
In addition to throwing with a newly insert ligament, Gibson has had time to smooth out those rough spots in his motion. During the time of Nationals’ phenom Stephen Strasburg’s rehab, the notion of added velocity for some TJ survivors was credited to several factors including conditioning applied during the recovery period as well as the down time allotted pitchers to scrutinize and improve mechanics.

But those radar gun readings are not the only thing that has made Gibson’s “sinker” (actually a two-seamer) so incredibly hard to square up on. In spring of 2011, prior to his ligament snapping, Gibson was turning heads in camp with this pitch’s action. Back then, the Star Tribune’s La Velle Neal wrote that he could “throw at a left-handed hitter’s hip and watch it break toward the inside corner.”

The movement displayed by this pitch is quite impressive. Check out the pitcher’s arm side run that this one takes during spring practice to Mauer in 2011:



Coupling with the movement and velocity of his ground-ball inducing sinker is his swing-and-miss generating slider – a slider that was christened by Baseball America in January as the “best” slider in the Twins’ system. In two starts in Arizona this fall, Gibson’s slider has induced 15 missed bats on 22 swings (34 sliders overall). Here comes the obvious precursory small sample size warning applies with 34 pitches but his 68% whiffs/swing would top the Baseball Prospectus’ Pitch F/X Leaderboard, as the next closest would be Zach Britton at 52%.

Don’t be fooled by the raving scouting report above – it would be unwise of the front office to head into the 2013 satisfied they have found another internal candidate to carry them through 200 innings. However, if the Twins are able to coax Gibson through the fall, winter and spring without any setbacks, given his display of above-average stuff, he undoubtedly could be a valuable part of the rotation in some capacity.

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