Armchair Evaluation – The Debut of Baltimore Orioles Prospect Kevin Gausman

After months of anticipation Thursday the Baltimore Orioles promoted pitching prospect Kevin Gausman to start against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.  Gausman, the Orioles 1st Round pick, 4th overall in the 2012 MLB Draft, was drafted out of Louisiana State as a polished collegiate pitcher with the potential to move relatively quickly through the minor leagues due to his mature approach and three pitch arsenal.  Gausman features a powerful, electric mid-90s fastball that can reach nearly 100mph, an exceptional swing-and-miss changeup, and an improving slider, along with excellent control and command of the strike zone.

Since signing his professional contract, Gausman has done little to disappoint, only needing 61.1 innings of minor league experience before the Orioles decided to promote him to Baltimore.  This season in 8 starts at Double-A Bowie, Gausman has a 3.11 ERA, 1.058 WHIP, 44 hits allowed in 46.1 innings pitched, and a remarkable 49 to 5 K/BB (strikeout to walk) ratio.

I first watched Gausman in the 2009 AFLAC high school All-American game, and have been eagerly anticipating his major league debut since he was drafted last summer and figured his debut would be a perfect subject for the latest installment of the soon to be quasi-famous Armchair Evaluation. 

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Kevin Gausman battled through a rather uneven debut Thursday evening against Toronto, pitching a total five innings, allowing four runs on seven hits and two walks against five strikeouts.  Through the first three innings, Gausman shut down the Toronto lineup, giving up only two hits and a walk, against three strikeouts in route to nearly crashing Twitter in the local Baltimore area. 

Unfortunately once he reached the 4th inning, and went through the batting order a second time, Gausman began to struggle as the Blue Jays attempted to attack earlier in the count, not allowing him to get ahead with the fastball and forcing them into defensive 2-strike counts.  Using this strategy Toronto scored two runs in the 4th and two in the 5th on a 2-run home run by J.P. Arencibia before his night was complete. 

Gausman threw a total of 89 pitches, 58 for strikes and 31 for balls, to get through his five innings pitched.  By my count, he threw 63 fastballs (70.7%) averaging 97.26mph topping out at 99.45mph, eight curveballs (9%), only three sliders (3.4%), and a total of 15 changeups (16.9%).  Gausman did a nice job getting ahead of the hitters, throwing 1st pitch strikes to 16 of the 24 hitters he faced (66.7%), and inducing seven pure swing-and-misses from the Blue Jays (7.9%), more than proving his repertoire is major league ready.  (Thanks BrooksBaseball.net)

While his final statistical numbers may not show it, Gausman’s start Thursday night should be considered a success, as he flashed two well above-average pitches in his fastball and changeup, a quiet and fairly polished throwing motion, and a mature approach attacking hitters.  Gausman showed good control of the strike zone early in the count, locating his electric fastball, and setting hitters up for his devastating changeup, especially through his first three innings. 

Like most young pitchers, once Toronto started timing his fastball and having a second and third look at his arsenal, Gausman failed to adjust and to throw his breaking pitches in the strike zone, getting only four of his eleven off-speed pitches thrown for strikes.  Gausman’s proficiency with his breaking pitches has always lagged his fastball and changeup, and he will need to improve his ability to throw them for strikes in the majors or he will struggle, especially against right-handed hitters.   

While the 22-year-old Gausman could still benefit from some additional experience in the minor leagues to refine his off-speed stuff and further polish his skills, Orioles fans must be excited watching him pitch in Baltimore through most of the rest of this decade.  At present, with two above-average offerings and command of the stuff, Gausman profiles as a solid #3-#4 starting pitcher.  However, if he continues to improve throwing his curveball and slider, Gausman has a legitimate chance to become an excellent #2 starter in a few years, with a chance to evolve into the rare Ace.   

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