May 22, 2013
The Situation: The Orioles have dropped six of their last seven and now find themselves four games back in the AL East. Injury and underperformance in the starting rotation have already forced the Birds’ hand, with Freddy Garcia logging four underwhelming starts over the past three weeks. Rather than turning to T.J. McFarland or Jake Arrieta for Thursday’s start north of the border, Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter will turn the ball over to the no. 2 prospect in the Orioles’ system (and no. 13 prospect in baseball), Kevin Gausman, in an attempt to inject the rotation with some life, not to mention some electric stuff.
Background: Gausman was a sixth-round selection by the Dodgers out of Grandview High School (Aurora, CO), but he turned down first-round money in favor of two years at LSU, where he immediately made an impact, finishing eighth in the SEC in strikeouts, ninth in hits allowed, and fifth in batting average against. After a strong summer as part of USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team, Gausman dominated the SEC as a sophomore, leading the conference in strikeouts and finishing third nationally while serving as the Tigers’ Friday night starter and earning All-American honors from multiple publications. He was the first pitcher selected in the 2012 draft, going fourth overall to the Baltimore Orioles, and he signed a $4.32 million dollar deal, $120,000 over slot allotment.
After easing into pro ball with a handful of starts at short-season Aberdeen Single-A (Adv.) Frederick last summer, Gausman began the 2013 season with Double-A Bowie and has been a force through his first eight starts and 46.1 innings pitched, posting a staggering 9.8 strikeout-to-walk ratio (49 strikeouts to just five walks) while allowing less than a hit per inning. He ranks in the top 10 in the Eastern League in strikeouts, WHIP, and strikeout-to-walk ratio, and opponents are batting just .246 against him—a number that would likely be much lower but for a porous infield and 48-plus percent groundball rate.
Scouting Report: Gausman utilizes long arms, a high three-quarters release, and good extension to create hard downward plane on his fastball. The pitch comes with boring action and routinely sits in the mid-90s, with the ability to climb close to triple-digits (he has touched triple digits in the past). He shows comfort with the offering and can move it around the quadrants, showing no fear working inside to set up his plus to plus-plus changeup. The off-speed pitch comes with arm-side fade and late drop, mirroring the action on his fastball, and generally sits in the mid-80s with around a nine to 12 mile per hour delta from his heater.
Gausman wielded both a slider and a curve throughout his scholastic career, but he has focused his attention on the former since inking with Baltimore, making solid strides with the offering over the past 10 months. He will routinely sit in the low-80s with the offering, but can juice it up to the mid-80s with tighter action more closely resembling a cutter. When clicking, the pitch comes with heavy tilt and is tough to pick up against his fastball trajectory, helping it project as a third plus or better weapon once he finds more consistency in command and execution. He is an excellent athlete who repeats his mechanics and fields his position well.
Immediate Big-League Future: Gausman is the consummate competitor, with enough nasty in him to stare down the game’s top bats without fear despite having fewer than 15 professional starts to his name. He has the pure arsenal to succeed right away in Baltimore and could quickly settle in as the rotation headliner for the foreseeable future. In light of Gausman’s history of maintaining his stuff deep into starts and deep into the season, the Orioles could be looking at an innings eater with a 75/80 fastball, plus-plus change, and plus slider to go with excellent make-up, a mean streak on the mound, and above-average command. That’s a potential future ace in anyone’s book. —Nick J. Faleris
Fantasy Impact: With Zack Wheeler sidelined with a sore clavicle and Gerrit Cole struggling through his Triple-A season, all fantasy eyes were squarely focused on Kevin Gausman as the first of the "big time" pitching prospects to potentially get the in-season call (excluding Jose Fernandez). It will happen on Thursday, and there are plenty of reasons to be excited if you've been stashing Gausman on your bench (or have a lot of FAAB to spend).
As you can tell from the scouting report above, the sky is the limit with Gausman, both in the long term and the short term. When a pitcher is able to maintain as lofty a strikeout-to-walk ratio as Gausman has so far this year, it bodes well for his immediate performance. There are questions yet to be answered about whether he'll be able to stick in the rotation for an extended period of time, but given the other options in Baltimore, a solid performance whould lock down his spot. Gausman should be a positive contributor in strikeouts and WHIP, given his aversion to the base-on-balls. Just keep in mind that since this is his first professional season, the Orioles are likely to have an innings cap in mind for him—but if we get to that point, he'll probably already have returned a good chunk of profit.
Gausman needs to be owned immediately in all dynasty leagues and all but the shallowest of keeper formats. He should not remain on the waiver wire in any redraft leagues 12-team mixed and deeper. In fact, I was able to sneak in and grab him in the Razzball Experts league (a 12-team mixed), much to the dismay of fellow league member and BP writer Paul Singman. In AL-only formats where Gausman is currently unowned, he's worth spending at least 20-25 percent of your remaining FAAB budget on, depending on your pitching situation. There is a chance that this is a short-lived promotion, but there's also a chance that Gausman steps in and is the best starting pitcher on the Orioles for the remainder of the season. —Bret Sayre
Nick J. Faleris is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @NickJFaleris