June 28, 2013
The Situation: Mike Pelfrey hit the shelf with a back injury, and Gibson was already on alert-five in Triple-A, eagerly awaiting his first major league opportunity.
Background: Gibson was a highly touted collegiate arm coming out of Missouri, but a few velocity valleys and an injury concern (forearm stress fracture) pushed him down the board. He fell to the Twins with the 22nd pick and signed for $1.85M. Most thought that when and if healthy, Gibson could move through the ranks of the minors in short order and provide the major league staff with an innings-chewing arm with upside. Healthy in 2010, the tall right-hander looked the part, making 26 starts and logging 152 IP in his minor league debut, erasing most of the injury concerns, and looking like a safe bet to develop into an above-average starter.
Gibson started his second minor league season at the Triple-A level, where he allowed hard contact at times despite showing the ability to miss some bats. Some scouts soured on his frontline upside, calling him more of a middle-of-the-rotation type (which would still make him a valuable addition to any pitching staff). The velocity tumble he experienced in college once again showed its face during the summer, and by August, Gibson was on the shelf and looking at Tommy John surgery.
Gibson slowly made his way back into game action, and by the time he took the mound in the prospect-heavy Arizona Fall League, not only had his stuff returned, but the velocity had spiked and his slider was as sharp as it had been since his first season. A healthy Gibson once again returned to Triple-A in 2013, and has been steady but not spectacular in 15 International League starts.
The Scouting: Gibson looks the part of a prototypical power arm, standing 6’6’’ and flashing the ability to work in the plus velocity range. The problem has often been his consistency, as he’s suffered from fluctuations in velocity throughout his career, both in college and at the pro level. As a starter, Gibson should be able to work comfortably in the low 90s, with the arm strength to go get more when he needs it. The pitchability forces the arsenal up, as he can work the fastball east/west and pitch backwards if the situation calls for it.
At times, Gibson’s slider is a bat-missing weapon, a sharp offering with tilt that is effective against both lefties and righties. He shows the ability to manipulate both the length of the break and the velocity, giving the offering more than one dimension. His changeup is another pitch that can flash plus, with good action that allows him to throw it effectively off the fastball. The stuff is good, but it’s not great, and at times Gibson can find too much of the zone.
To find success, Gibson will need to move the fastball around, working down but also showing the ability to elevate the offering when necessary. It’s often suggested that working low is the key to success, but if hitters know where the ball is going to be located, they can find it. Working east/west and north/south keeps a hitter guessing by altering the sight lines. That helps the secondary stuff play up even more, because it adds both horizontal and vertical breaks into the mix, as well as altering the timing of the bat.
Gibson will need to do more than just pound the zone with strikes, because he doesn’t have the stuff to live loose in a major league hitting zone. If he can move the ball around, maintain 90-94 velocity on the fastball, create some deception with the changeup and miss barrels with the slider, he can stick around and log innings for the Twins. However, for a former top prospect, his margin for error isn’t very big. —Jason Parks
Fantasy Impact: There are two factors very much at odds with each other when it comes to Gibson's current fantasy value, only one of which has to do with the right-hander's pure talent level. The second factor that can't be separated from his 2013 value is the specter of his innings cap and how it will affect his usage over the remainder of this season. And that’s a shame, since I believe that Gibson is being underrated from a skill perspective.
Throughout the last six months or so, there have been a few different references to the number of innings Gibson would be allowed to throw this year, as he's still building up from his 2011 Tommy John surgery. There was never a specific number cited as gospel, as there was in Stephen Strasburg’s case, but if you piece together the commentary, it appears as though he'll be shut down somewhere between 135 and 150 innings into his season. Normally, this wouldn't be that big a deal, but the Twins have taken an interesting approach here—instead of building him up and capping his innings at the start of the season, they've already let him throw 92 2/3 innings. That means that if you pick him up for fantasy this year, you're unlikely to get more than about 55 innings out of him the rest of the way, or as few as eight or nine starts.
From a skills perspective, Gibson can be a much more valuable fantasy starter than many analysts are letting on. He may not have top-shelf stuff, but his slider is much improved since he went under the knife. Don’t be fazed by the fact that he pitches for the Twins and is a holdover from the organization’s "pitch to contact" approach to drafting and developing pitchers: Gibson can miss bats at the major league level. And because he's built to log innings, he could reach 160-170 strikeouts per season during his prime.
In redraft leagues, Gibson becomes a worthy target in AL-only and deep mixed formats. But he can also be a stealth short-term pickup in 12-team mixed leagues. He'll make his first two starts at Target Field—which helps a right-handed pitcher who can give up the long ball when he's struggling—against the Royals and the underpowered Yankees. In AL-only formats, I'd be comfortable spending $8-10 (out of a $100 budget) on him in FAAB; he'd likely command $12-15 without the impending innings cap. In dynasty leagues, Gibson should be grabbed in all but the shallowest of formats, though he's not a guy you want to burn a high waiver priority on. In the end, I think Gibson can be a Shaun Marcum type, but without the injury concerns. And yes, that's a purely statistical comp, not a physical one. —Bret Sayre
Jason Parks is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @ProfessorParks