COMMENTARY | After Pedro Hernandez made his emergency start on Sunday, June 23, he was sent back down to Class AAA Rochester, and the Minnesota Twins announced they were finally calling up pitching prospect Kyle Gibson to start Saturday's game for the injured Mike Pelfrey.
Gibson is considered by most to be a good but not great prospect. However, it has been so long since the Twins' minor league system produced a quality starting pitcher, that Gibson's debut will be one of the most highly anticipated in quite some time.
Minnesota Twins Hope Kyle Gibson's Debut Will Be Better Than Matt Garza's
In fact, the Twins haven't had a starting pitcher have a debut that was this anticipated since 2006 when Matt Garza made his debut two years after being drafted in the first round. That didn't go as well as hoped. Garza gave up seven earned runs in 2 2/3 innings in a loss to the Toronto Blue Jays at the Metrodome.
Gibson is also a first-round draft pick, and he's already ahead of most other pitchers drafted in the first round by the Twins. Garza is probably the best pitcher the Twins drafted in the first round, signed and developed. Of course, he was shipped off to the Tampa Bay Rays prior to the 2008 season in the infamous Delmon Young trade.
That trade was one of the few the Twins have done to trade away young pitching for offense. Of course, Young didn't provide much offense and was a butcher on defense. Still, the Twins have not been able to develop their own frontline starting pitching since then.
At least not until now. Or that's what the Twins are hoping, anyways.
Gibson doesn't have the high strikeout totals of elite pitching prospects, but he has a solid rate of 8.0 strikeouts per nine innings in his minor league career. He will most likely have the best swing-and-miss ability of any Twins starter as soon as he throws his first pitch Saturday.
Minnesota Twins Expect to See a Lot of Groundballs When Kyle Gibson Pitches
But getting strikeouts is not what he does best. Unlike Twins pitching prospects, it isn't his control, although he limits walks pretty well as well at 2.44 BB/9 for his career. The best thing he does is keep the ball on the ground.
Gibson has an incredible 3.2 groundball-to-flyball ratio for his career. To put that in perspective, the American League for GB/FB ratio is 0.79, which means the average AL pitchers give up more flyballs and line drives than ground balls.
Gibson gets more than three groundballs for every flyball or line drive he allows. The Detroit Tigers' Doug Fister currently leads the AL with a 1.41 GB/FB ratio.
Getting groundballs in baseball is important for pitchers because it limits the opportunities for opponents to hit home runs. Basically, anytime a batter hits the ball on the ground, he can't hit it over the fence.
Groundballs also don't go for doubles or triples as often either. In the AL, batters have an OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) of .504 on groundballs, .765 on fly balls and 1.681 on line drives.
If you consider Gibson's strikeout rate in the minors, then over 81 percent of the batters he faced either struck out or hit the ball on the ground.
Minnesota Twins Might Limit Kyle Gibson's Innings After Having Tommy John Surgery
The biggest concern about Gibson is that he is in his first full season since having Tommy John surgery in 2011. Most expect the Twins to limit Gibson's innings this season to as little as 130 or 130 innings (he is at 92 2/3 innings on the season), but the Twins have never publicly stated that they have any number in mind as a hard limit.
"When we think he's ready and he comes in, he'll be part of the rotation," assistant general manager Rob Antony told the "St. Paul Pioneer Press". "I don't think we're going to play a lot of games. If we get to a point in the season where we think he's fatigued and can't go anymore, we're going to do what's right for him and the club. We're going to monitor it."
It should be noted that Francisco Liriano threw 199 1/3 innings between the minors and the majors in 2008, his first season back from Tommy John surgery. Other teams have been more conservative with young pitchers coming back from surgery. The Washington Nationals shut down Stephen Strasburg after about 160 innings last year.
However, Gibson pitched part of a season last year, unlike Strasburg or Liriano. Gibson threw 75 innings between the minor leagues and the Arizona Fall League, and he is a year and nine months removed from his surgery. Hopefully, he'll be allowed to pitch 160 to 170 innings this season so he can go 200 or so in 2014.
Darin McGilvra has been a professional sportswriter since 1997 and has been a Twins follower since Kirby Puckett's breakout season of 1986. He has been published in The Californian, a newspaper covering Riverside County, and numerous other websites.
Follow Darin on Twitter at @SoCalTwinsfan.
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