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Prospect of the Day: Kevin Gausman, RHP, Baltimore Orioles

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Kevin Gausman
Kevin Gausman

The Baltimore Orioles promoted pitching prospect Kevin Gausman to the major leagues today. He'll make his big league debut against the Toronto Blue Jays less than one year after being drafted, a rapid rise even for a top prospect. With Dylan Bundy sidelined with arm problems, Gausman seized control of the top spot on Baltimore's prospect list this spring, impressing Orioles brass in spring training and dominating Double-A. He is our topic as Minor League Ball's Prospect of the Day.

Gausman grew up in Colorado and was seen as a potential first-round pick entering the 2010 draft season. However, an erratic spring, a velocity drop, and a commitment to NCAA baseball power Louisiana State University clouded his signability, dropping him to the sixth round where he was drafted by the Dodgers.

Despite an over-slot offer over $1,000,000, Los Angeles couldn't sign him, Gausman gambling that a successful college career would only enhance his stock. This turned out to be a good gamble. He was very impressive for the Tigers as a freshman, posting a 3.51 ERA with an 86/23 K/BB ratio in 90 innings, maintaining his velocity more consistently and showing good pitchability. His January 6, 1991 birthday made him a draft-eligible sophomore for 2012. Expected to be a potential first-round pick, he exceeded all expectations by going 12-2, 2.77 with a 135/28 K/BB ratio in 124 innings, prompting many experts to rate him as the best college pitcher in the '12 draft.

The Orioles drafted him fourth-overall last June, signing him for $4,320,000. He got in 15 pro innings between the New York-Penn League and the Carolina League, posting a 13/1 K/BB. Assigned to Double- A Bowie this spring, he showed remarkable control of excellent stuff, posting a 49/5 K/BB in 46 innings with a 3.11 ERA, fanning 10 over six innings in his last start on May 17th. Overall, he has a 62/6 K/BB in 61 professional innings; three of those walks came in a single start earlier this month.

Gausman is a 6-4, 190 pound right-hander. He has plenty of heat and his fastball isn't straight, rated as outstanding by scouts due to the combination of velocity and movement. He can throw a two-seamer in the low-90s; his four-seamer is consistently in the mid-90s and has been reliably clocked as high as 99 in recent starts.

As good as his fastball is, his change-up may be better. JD Sussman points out that Gausman's change-up is so good, it is sometimes mistaken for a breaking ball. The fastball/change-up arsenal alone, combined with his ability to throw strikes, would make him a successful pitcher.

But Gausman has more than that. In the past, scouts were concerned that Gausman's breaking ball was not as refined as his fastball and change. He threw both a curveball and slider in college with mixed results, but he's concentrated on developing the slider in pro ball. It is still a bit inconsistent, but it is overpowering at its best, giving him three plus pitches. The breaking ball is not going to be an issue.

As the K/BB ratio shows, he has no problem throwing strikes and doesn't show the command problems that often dog young power pitchers. He also gets a lot of ground balls, posting a 1.57 GO/AO this spring. Gausman's confidence and pitching instincts are lauded, and he's proven quite durable so far, the latter quality a result of his overall athleticism, efficiency, and ability to repeat his mechanics well.

A scout friend used four words to describe Gausman to me before the draft last spring: "he is a beast." By that he meant that Gausman never showed fear, had everything physically and mentally needed to be a dominating top-of-the-rotation starter, and that it wouldn't take long for him to get there. That take has certainly proved accurate thus far.

As with any young pitcher, some ups-and-downs should be expected as he gets used to the majors, but Gausman has shown the ability to adapt and improve very quickly.