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Updated: November 25th, 2012 2:07pm
Mackey: How does a 'healthy' Kyle Gibson fit into Twins' 2013 plans?

Mackey: How does a 'healthy' Kyle Gibson fit into Twins' 2013 plans?

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by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com

The Minnesota Twins have some decisions to make regarding right-hander Kyle Gibson, who was recently reinstated as the team's No. 1 pitching prospect according to Baseball America.

Mostly good-problem-to-have decisions, considering Gibson "is healthy and finished with about 75 innings total" between the regular season and fall league, general manager Terry Ryan said. "We are pleased with his effort, performance and health."

With Gibson back to nearly full strength after undergoing Tommy John surgery 15 months ago, the Twins must decide where he fits into the 2013 blueprint.

Earlier this offseason, Ryan said the Twins will likely limit Gibson's innings to somewhere between 130 and 140 in 2013 -- much like the Atlanta Braves did with Kris Medlen, who pitched 138 innings in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery.

Medlen underwent the operation in August of 2010, which is roughly the same timeline Gibson is on one year later. Medlen, who just turned 27, began last season in the bullpen for Atlanta, then transitioned back to the starting rotation on July 31, where he posted a 0.97 ERA with 84 strikeouts and 10 walks in 83 2/3 innings over 12 starts. The Braves went 12-0 in those games.

At age 25, Gibson is nearing the prime of his career without having thrown a single pitch in the big leagues yet. At this point, it makes little sense to stash him away in Rochester for a large chunk of time if he shows during spring training he's still healthy. But it also might not make sense to start him in the rotation in April only to see his innings run out in August.

The Medlen approach seems like a good one for the Twins.

Gibson started strong in the Arizona Fall League but sputtered late, ultimately posting a 5.40 ERA in 23 1/3 innings over six starts. Gibson struck out 28, walked eight and didn't allow a home run.

One baseball person who saw Gibson's outings in the Arizona Fall League said the right-hander maintained a 93-94 mph fastball with a good slider in his final start, which are both good signs. Gibson's command was sharp through his first three starts, but it slipped in the latter three.

Gibson's biggest strengths as a pitcher are location and his ability to induce groundballs with a two-seam fastball that rides down and in to right-handed hitters. In his first fall league start, for instance, Gibson went five scoreless innings without reaching a three-ball count once.

Business has been slow for the Twins so far this offseason, which shouldn't come as a surprise -- for the Twins or any other team.

Aside from Torii Hunter, who signed before Thanksgiving for the second time in five years, most free agents wait until the Winter Meetings (early Dec.) or later to ink contracts. And most trade discussions don't heat up until general managers meet face-to-face at the Winter Meetings.

That said, the Twins needed four starting pitchers when the season ended on Oct. 3. Nearly two months later, they still need four starting pitchers.

With only one man penciled into next year's rotation -- Scott Diamond -- the Twins' front office has decided internally they'd like to add three starters via free agency or trade, leaving the final spot for a guy like Gibson, or whoever else shows improvement during spring training.

With Jeremy Guthrie (three years, $25 million), Hunter (two years, $25 million) and Melky Cabrera (two years, $16 million) all signing relatively large contracts, it appears as if bargains will be difficult to come by.

The Twins have been in contact with representatives for nearly every free agent pitcher on the market, perhaps most notably Brett Myers, who wants to return to a starting role after pitching in relief for the Astros and White Sox last season. Myers would certainly eat innings (he pitched 223 2/3 and 216 innings in 2010 and 2010 for Houston), but it's unlikely he'd be anything more than a No. 4 or No. 5-caliber starter.

The majority of baseball evaluators see Gibson topping out as a No. 2 or No. 3 starter long-term.

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
In this story: Scott Diamond
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