Written By: Dan Cook, WCCO Radio
Kyle Benjamin Gibson was born October 23, 1987. Two days later, the Minnesota Twins won their first of two World Series titles.
Just shy of 22 years later, Gibson became the Twins 2009 first-round draft pick.
And on Saturday, he made his Major League debut against the Kansas City Royals.
Gibson’s path to the majors was far from direct. He was first drafted by the Phillies out of high school in 2006, but chose to attend the University of Missouri instead.
After being selected by the Twins in 2009, many thought his ascension to the big club would come quickly.
Instead, after a solid 2010 season, he started feeling some arm soreness in 2011 and was eventually diagnosed with a tear in his ulnar collateral ligament which is the precursor to Tommy John surgery.
Gibson had his elbow repaired in September of that season and was back on the mound for the Twins’ Gulf Coast League team 10 months later.
He proceeded to make two starts for the Twins Single-A Fort Meyers club, followed by two more at Triple-A Rochester.
Following the 2012 season, Gibson was sent to the Arizona Fall League where he was named AFL Pitcher of the Week in Week 2 and participated in the AFL All-Star Game.
Entering 2013, Baseball America listed him as the Twins fourth-best prospect. Most assumed he’d make his MLB debut at some point this season – it was just a matter of when.
It’s become fashionable in GM circles to hold back certain players’ debuts to gain an extra year of service time before they become arbitration-eligible, and some pundits were grumbling that Gibson would’ve debuted earlier if not for that consideration.
Twins GM Terry Ryan vehemently denied that theory, pointing out the Twins’ willingness to have OF Aaron Hicks start the season in the majors, despite his rookie status.
Ryan claimed that the delay with Gibson was more about allowing him to develop a sense of consistency at Triple-A in the hopes that once he joined the big club, he’d be here to stay.
Those “consistency” questions were apparently answered when Gibson notched his fifth-straight win over seven starts on June 20. He’d gone at least 7.0 innings in four of his last seven starts, compiling a 2.31 ERA and holding opponents to a .187 batting average.
Gibson officially “got the call” on June 25 and joined the Twins on the road in Miami.
This brings us to his first MLB start on Saturday.
The buzz was palpable at Target Field in both the stands and the clubhouse.
The evening prior, Twins second baseman Brian Dozier had expressed his enthusiasm.
“Yeah, that’s going to be really exciting for us. I know everybody’s been anticipating him being up here,” Dozier said. “From personal experience and playing with him, he’s one of the hardest workers. He always competes his tail off every time he gets on the mound. I like playing behind him a lot.”
Prior to the game on Saturday, manager Ron Gardenhire was asked how he thought Gibson would react to “the moment.”
“I think that’s the greatest thing about it, is that we don’t [know],” Gardenhire said. “I was talking with Steiny [Twins bench coach Terry Steinbach] this morning and I said how many of these you seen with this kind of buildup, young kid coming up with this kind of buildup and how does it go, and he said ‘All kinds of ways, and the greatest thing about it is we all get to watch it just like everybody else.’”
The nice thing about making a debut start at home is that the pitcher gets right out there in the top of the 1st and doesn’t have time to sit and think about it while his club hits.
Gibson got a vociferous ovation as he was introduced as part of the Twins line-up and hit the mound ready to go.
It didn’t take long for him to earn his first MLB out. Alex Gordon was first-pitch swinging, and flied out to left to open the game.
“That’s one thing I’ve been working is trying to get quick outs,” Gibson said after the game. “The fact that I was able to get the first one on the first pitch was pretty cool.”
Outside of a loud Eric Hosmer single to right, Gibson cruised through the first, throwing 12 pitches (nine strikes) and fanning Billy Butler to close out the frame.
The Twins provided the youngster with big-time run support in the bottom half of the first, sending 10 men to the plate and scoring five runs.
“You always worry about that,” Gardenhire said about Gibson having to sit for the long bottom-half of the first. “But it was early enough in the game, I don’t think he’s going to let down emotionally. But scoring some runs and giving him a lead, giving him something to work with so he didn’t have to be so pinpoint – he could just let it go and make them swing the bat. He did a really nice job of that.”
Gibson hit his first patch of trouble in the third, as three of the first four Royals batters reached base. Kansas City ended up plating a pair of runs on four hits before he was able to get Mike Moustakas to ground out to end the inning.
He said the early run support was key to not getting too tight in that inning.
“I can’t say enough about my teammates. Definitely going out there and getting a big lead early took a lot of pressure off. The two runs that I gave up – not that they were meaningless runs – but the five-run lead definitely allowed those to not be as big of runs.”
Those two runs ended up being all the damage Kansas City could muster against the rookie as he gave up just two more hits over the next three innings before being lifted after the sixth.
Gibson ended up striking out five Royals batters with nary a walk in his six innings of work.
Catcher Joe Mauer said that Gibson’s movement was a key for him.
“I think everything was keying off that sinker. He’s got good secondary pitches too. His changeup has a lot of movement on it. His slider was pretty good today… but he was throwing that sinker really well.”
In earning the win, Gibson became the first ever Twins first-round draft pick to get a win in his Major League debut.
“It was just an amazing day, really. I was pretty nervous the last couple of days leading up to it,” Gibson said. “I think seeing a couple of familiar faces before I started throwing and a little prayer before the game definitely helped me calm my nerves. It was a great day.”