Rick Peterson looked on from the Bowie Baysox’s dugout as Kevin Gausman stated his case. The Orioles’ prized right hander decimated the Trenton Thunder over six innings, striking out ten and allowing few well hit balls. With Baltimore four games behind the American League East division leaders and their rotation in shambles, expect Gausman to earn a promotion after the super-two deadline passes in mid-June. In eight starts with Double-A Bowie, Gausman has been nearly untouchable. He’s third in the Eastern League in FIP, and owns a 25.7% strikeout rate and a 2.6% walk rate.
The high-waisted 6’3″ right hander has a long, lean frame and he’s listed at just 190 lbs. There is plenty of room for growth throughout his body, if he should choose to cultivate mass. In the windup, Gausman has a high leg kick. He brings his left leg to his hands, which rest chest high at takeaway before he delivers the ball from a high three quarter arm slot.
Gausman works off his 96-98 MPH four-seam fastball with features significant arm side run and sink when located down in the zone. The pitch frequently touched 99 MPH, even in later innings. When elevated up in the zone, the pitch maintained velocity but flattened out and became hittable. On Friday, Gausman demonstrated a clear preference to keep the pitch down in the zone — where it was most effective — a tendency which may explain his 51.5% ground ball rate this year.
At 22, his command of the pitch is well above average. He worked both sides of the plate with easy and showed no restraint when throwing inside. When he misses his spot, he misses down in the strike zone. For most minor league strikeout artists, their swing and misses are a product of good stuff and inducing swings on pitches outside the zone. Gausman, however, attacks hitters. He pounds the lower half of the zone with his fastball and his strikeouts are the product of getting a head of hitters and complementing his fastball with two lethal secondary offerings.
Gausman can command of an elite fastball, but his changeup is his best offering. He maintains his arm speed on the 82-84 MPH pitch, which features a massive velocity differential from his fastball. The change is not only deceptive, it has exceptional movement. Its drop and fade are so dramatic they mimic a breaking ball. In the first inning, scouts questioned whether he threw the change or whether all of his secondary offerings were sliders. After vigorous debate, they decided he threw an equal mix.
When the Orioles drafted Gausman out of Louisiana State University many questioned the merits of his breaking ball. When he makes his debut, no one will deny it is a quality offering. At its best, the slider has a tight 11-5 break with no visible hump. In the past, the pitch did not feature as much sharp vertical break. Like his changeup, his slider is thrown at 82-84 MPH, but it breaks in the opposite direction. It’s a true major league quality out pitch.
Additionally, Gausman threw four cutters. Three were thrown in the high 80s but one was thrown at 93 MPH and was roped into the left center field gap by Slade Heathcott for a triple. The appearance of the cutter took me by surprise, given the Orioles’ stance against Dylan Bundy using the pitch. *Update: These were sliders. Gausman does not throw a cutter. But, this hard, tight slider closely resembled a cutter.*
There is little Kevin Gausman can learn by remaining in the minor leagues. To nitpick, he could throw his slider with more consistent shape. At times, it was loose and broke early. But, the “good” slider was more frequently present. Also, he could also change hitters’ eye-levels better by working more effectively up in the zone with his fastball. He was content to work down in the zone a majority of the time.
It may not happen over night, but Gausman will develop into a front of the rotation arm.
With 46 innings under his belt in 2013, the Orioles will likely allow Gausman to throw between 100 – 120 more innings this season. It would be wise if the majority of them were for Baltimore.
I apologize for the roller-coaster effect. I’m using new editing software.