Warne: Kyle Gibson will contribute but expectations must be realistic
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MINNEAPOLIS -- It wouldn't be unfair for Minnesota Twins fans to clamor for an ace. It wouldn't be unfair for the faithful to yearn for the days of Johan Santana again.
Or even the days of Francisco Liriano in 2010.
But it wouldn't be fair for the same folks to pin those hopes on the right arm of Kyle Gibson, either.
Acquiring an ace takes selecting and cultivating, drafting and developing, or sometimes just outright overpayment in terms of assets changing hands. And maybe sometimes it's the manner in which Santana was acquired -- for nothing, really -- or shipped out -- for nothing, really -- that often leads fans to demand their team add an ace, when it's just not that easy.
And if these are the same fans who won't adequately appreciate the first 50 to 60 innings Gibson gives the Twins this season, that's just too bad.
Gibson is part of the solution.
Gibson's ceiling isn't as a No. 1 starter. In fact, he might not even be a No. 2 starter, according to people who have spoken to 1500 ESPN on the subject.
But a No. 3 starter in today's game, and given the state of the current Twins rotation, still makes him unquestionably among the best starting pitchers in the entire organization -- at least when figuring in skills, preparedness, and polish.
Al Skorupa of Fangraphs saw Gibson in the spring, and if Gibson's numbers at Triple-A Rochester are any indication (7-5, 3.01 earned-run average), there's very little that has changed between then and now.
"He was solid (in Florida)," Skorupa said. "He worked 93-94 miles per hour with the fastball, with late sink and run on it. (He) pitches with great downward plane and keeps everything low -- even his misses. Very tough for hitters to elevate."
That downward plane is good to see, especially from someone of Gibson's height (6-foot-6) who tends to be a 'pitchability' type rather than someone who racks up strikeouts with raw stuff.
Skorupa also noted that Gibson's sinker is heavy -- "bowling ball" -- and he mixes in a solid changeup and a slider that can be inconsistent at times. By his reckoning, Gibson should be a good groundball-type, which is exactly what the Twins like to see.
That, in conjunction with what should be roughly league-average or just below strikeout rates, should make him a more than competent addition to the rotation.
And while Skorupa was impressed with how Gibson worked both sides of the plate, he noted that the righthander's stuff won't miss many bats, making it difficult to elevate him higher than a No. 3 starter in terms of projection.
But if the numbers exchanged were any indication -- a high 3.00s ERA with 7.0-ish strikeouts per nine innings -- that still vaults him to the head off the class with the current group of pitchers the Twins employ.
Right now, Samuel Deduno paces all Twins starters with 5.2 strikeouts per nine innings. Via Fangraphs, the league-average mark for starters this year in the American League is 7.2 strikeouts per nine innings.
That means Gibson would be about the only Twins starter likely to even threaten that league-average mark at this point.
Another prospect writer who saw Gibson this spring was Hudson Belinsky, who has done work with Baseball Prospectus, Prospect Insider, and Perfect Game.
He had a similar same assessment of Gibson's pitch mix as Skorupa -- "fastball touched 94 with good action, slider was a plus pitch with good bite and two-plane break" -- but in a separate conversation, he added this assessment with something Twins fans might not take as kindly as they should:
"Yeah, he's a guy that you're totally OK with as your starter for Game 3 of a playoff series," Belinsky said.
Considering the expectations for Gibson, that might not be good enough.
Success is not always immediate for starting pitchers, regardless of what age they debut.
Scott Baker -- in some ways a comparable pitcher -- did quite well in his first 50-plus innings (3.35 ERA) before being pounded in his next 80-plus (6.37). Kevin Slowey's first 60 (4.73 with a ton of home runs given up) were a bit bumpy, but his next season was quite good (3.99 with a pair of shutouts).
Both of those pitchers were a lot like Gibson in the minors -- solid mid-7s or low 8s for strikeouts per nine innings, low walk rates, and sparkling ERAs.
But even Liriano -- the gold standard in terms of Twins' pitching prospects -- struggled out of the chute with a 5.70 ERA in that first cup of coffee.
What you see is not going to be necessarily what you get from Gibson right away, but by most indications a truncated 2013 should bode well for 2014 and going forward.