SCOTTSDALE, AZ - Former Mizzou pitcher and current Minnesota Twins prospect 25-year-old right-hander Kyle Gibson will do something he's never done before this Saturday.
"I've never been in a big league atmosphere," Gibson said about playing in the Rising Stars Game. "It's as close as it really comes. Whenever you get asked to go to a game like this and be recognized as what they call a rising star, I guess it's pretty cool."
Not only was Gibson named an Arizona Fall League Rising Star, but he'll also start for the West Division versus Astros prospect right-hander Jarred Cosart who starts for the East Division.
Gibson looked dominant in his first three AFL starts, going 3-0, striking out 19 batters with an earned run average under 1.00. Currently, he has the second most wins in the league. Although he was roughed up in his fourth start, Gibson said it didn't shake his confidence.
"I'm starting the game, it's my job to get go out there and get 6 outs, nobody likes to lose you know especially in a situation like this," Gibson said.
Even though he's used to being a starter, Gibson is treating his AFL Rising Star appearance more like a reliever.
"I'm out there knowing I'm only going two innings," Gibson said. "I don't have to save anything so I'm going to go out there and get six outs as fast as possible."
Unlike Gibson's plan for Saturday, his rise to the big leagues has been slower than expected. His fast track to the the show ended one month after his selection to the 2011 Futures game. In September, he joined the long list of pitchers who have needed Tommy John surgery.
Gibson's future wouldn't be defined by his surgery. According to BaseballReference.com, rehabilitation takes around 12 to 15 months for pitchers. But just 10 short months after leaving the operating table, Gibson was back playing in the Twins' Gulf Coast League starting seven games while striking out 16 batters. He ended the 2012 regular season in Triple-A Rochester.
"Whether you're in [a] bases loaded no outs [situation], or have surgery like I did and if you're not able to work your way through it and trust the fact that you're good enough to get out of the jam or good enough come back from surgery like this, it's gonna be pretty tough on you," Gibson explained about his fight back through the minors.
He said his positive attitude comes from former University of Missouri pitching coach Tony Vitello, who had a major impact on Gibson's college career at Mizzou.
"One thing he really instilled in us, you gotta be tough," Gibson said about Vitello's work ethic. "It's easy to be tough in situations when things are going your way, but when things aren't going your way and you're facing adversity and you're still able to go out there and be tough and work your way through, I think that's one thing I really learned and it took heart."
"Gibby has a deadly formula for success in sports," Tony Vitello said. "He is extremely athletic and has a lights out work ethic. That combo makes for a pretty good problem solver."
His wife Elizabeth also played a big part in helping Gibson get through rehab.
"It seems silly," Gibson explained. "But being able to come home and have someone who can talk about things other than baseball, [she] was able to be a really big help and put a positive spin on life."
He's never pitched in a big league game, but Gibson's optimism is exactly what the right-hander will use to sink his competition.
"I'm gonna try to go out there and do what I always do," Gibson said. "Throw my sinker and hopefully I get to throw nine or ten pitches and everybody grounds out."
Gibson will do what he's always done, only Saturday, it's on a bigger stage than ever.
"I expect Kyle to be a successful big leaguer that is a champion in the community and the clubhouse," Vitello explained. "I know that he will make it up there."
"I just appreciate it," Gibson said. "All that support and the ongoing support through the good times and the bad, it's cool to know I still have a lot of fans in Missouri whether I'm doing good or bad."
You can see Gibson on the hill in the Rising Stars Game on Saturday at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale, Ariz. live on MLB Network and MLB.com at 7 p.m. CT.
In two innings of work at the Rising Stars game, Gibson gave up three hits, two runs and had two strikeouts. He left the game with the West and East tied at two.