It certainly didn't take pitching prospect Kyle Gibson long to make a strong impression on Kubel, and this spring, the lanky right-hander is continuing to turn heads in his first big league camp.
The Twins' first-round pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of Missouri, Gibson has already drawn quite a lot of attention this spring, and it's no surprise considering the fast track that the 23-year-old has been on during his career with the club.
In his first professional season in 2010, Gibson rose through three levels of the Minor League system -- something that doesn't frequently happen in the Minnesota organization. But that was far from the only hectic thing in Gibson's life last season. He also married his college sweetheart, Elizabeth Straatmann, who had been a gymnast at Missouri, in November.
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"It was a whirlwind," Gibson said of the year he had in 2010. "I've tried to come up with a different word to describe it, but that's exactly what it was: a whirlwind."
The 6-foot-6 right-hander began the year at Class A Fort Myers, followed that with a stint at Double-A New Britain, and then finished at Triple-A Rochester, going a combined 11-6 with a 2.96 ERA in 26 starts.
Gibson's final stop at Rochester was a short one -- just three starts -- since the Twins decided to cap his season at 152 innings due to the fact it was his first pro season and he was coming off an injury.
It was certainly an uncommonly quick rise for a Twins prospect, as the organization has been known to take its time moving pitchers through the Minor Leagues. But Gibson shrugs off the praise for his ability to pitch at so many levels in his first season.
"I caught a couple breaks last year with guys going down," said Gibson, who struck out 126 batters and issued just 39 walks in 152 innings. "I probably wouldn't have moved up that quick. The opportunity was there, and I was the guy whose name they called."
Of course, the Twins aren't surprised by Gibson's rapid rise through their system. The club felt fortunate that it was able to draft Gibson with the No. 22 pick in the 2009 Draft. Gibson had been projected to be a Top 10 pick before suffering a stress fracture in his right forearm shortly before the Draft.
The injury appeared to scare off a number of teams, and Gibson spent the days leading up to the Draft wondering just where he might land.
"We could see a little change, because prior to that nobody past pick No. 15 was talking to me, and then after my injury, nobody before pick No. 10 was talking to me," Gibson said. "It was just kind of a shift into who I was talking to. But it didn't really worry us because I'm not too much of a worrier."
Gibson sat at home with family and friends watching the Draft on television, and as the picks continued to pass, there was some anxiety in the room. Not from him, Gibson said, as he was just hoping to get drafted at some point in the day. The big moment finally came at pick No. 22 when the Twins selected him.
But while some athletes might use such a situation to motivate themselves, Gibson said he's just happy that he wound up in the Twins organization.
"I love it when people doubt me, but I don't think it's good to say, 'OK, these teams didn't draft me so I'm going to be mad at them.' There are 21 teams who didn't do that, so that's too many teams to worry about," said Gibson, laughing at the thought.
For now, Gibson is just focused on doing what he can this spring to impress the Twins' coaching staff. On Friday, he threw live batting practice to a group of hitters that included Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. And Kubel got another chance to face Gibson earlier this week, raving afterward about the pitcher's command of the strike zone.
"He has a lot of good movement," Kubel said. "But what really impressed me when I faced him the other day is that he keeps everything down. It sinks a lot. I don't think I saw one pitch over the knees, and I don't think I saw one over the knees the one time I went down there to face him last year. So he keeps the ball down and makes it all look the same. He makes it really tough on a hitter."
Scouts have raved about Gibson's stuff -- a two-seam fastball with a lot of life, a slider and a changeup -- but Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson has been even more impressed by Gibson's intangibles.
"It's the way he goes about his work," Anderson said. "He finished throwing a [bullpen session] a few days ago and I said, 'I'll tell you what, you've had a good upbringing. Your parents raised you right. You've had good coaching.' He handles himself so well, and he's everything you want in a guy -- his makeup, his personality. The stuff is outstanding, but more important is how he handles himself."
With six starters already competing for five spots in the Minnesota rotation, Gibson is expected to open the 2011 season back at Triple-A Rochester. But Gardenhire told people this winter while on the club's annual Winter Caravan that it's likely Gibson will make his Major League debut at some point during the 2011 season.
Gibson isn't trying to think too far ahead, instead making his goal to continue the consistency that he was able to maintain throughout last season. Being in big league camp this spring is a reminder of just how close he is to getting to the Majors, and if last year's quick rise through the system is any indication, Gibson will be wearing a Twins uniform sooner rather than later.
"Last season when I moved up to Triple-A, it's like, 'Wow, I'm literally one step away from the big leagues,'" Gibson said. "You're around a lot of guys who have been to the big leagues, and you can just kind of smell it and feel it a little bit, because you're so close. And that's really exciting."