In a bit of a surprise move (what with Mark Appel in free-fall after the Astros selected Carlos Correa first overall), the Baltimore Orioles selected LSU right-hander Kevin Gausman with the fourth overall pick of the 2012 Rule 4 Draft. A draft-eligible sophomore because of his age, this is the second time Gausman has been drafted, having previously been drafted in the sixth round (202nd overall) by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2010, largely to off-set the risk of RHP Zach Lee not coming to terms in the first round.
Gausman went 11-1 with a 2.72 ERA and a 128:27 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 116 innings in 2012 with LSU. Statistically, despite the aforementioned Mark Appel’s loftier expectations, Gausman put up virtually identical numbers in virtually the identical amount of innings, so it really amounted to personal preference on the part of the Orioles. It’s unlikely that the Orioles had much pre-draft conversation with Appel considering how likely it was that he went top 3, so it’s no surprise to this writer that they stuck with their guns and made Gausman the pick even with the Stanford product Appel still on the board.
I kind of think it’s Gausman’s penchant for eating powdered donuts between innings that sealed the deal for the Orioles.
After ranking 50th on Baseball America’s 2010 top 200, Gausman moved his way up to 5th (behind only Appel, Kyle Zimmer, Byron Buxton and Michael Zunino) in the 2012 version of their top 500. Gausman’s bread-and-butter is his four-seamer, sitting 94-96 and touching 98 when he reaches back. He also has a powerful two-seamer with armside run that sits in the low-90’s. Additionally, Gausman features a polished change-up (something I always look for in a college pitcher hoping to stay in the rotation as opposed to moving to the bullpen) and a slider. The slider is an interesting case because he actually scrapped it in high school in favor of a curveball, but switched back to the slider earlier this year. It’s an inconsistent offering right now but has the potential to be at least an average pitch down the line.
Here’s some excellent video from Diamondscapescouting of Gausman facing off against Arkansas in March. I don’t see any enormous red flags in watching the video, and I love the downward plane he creates with his high leg-kick. In the long run that has the potential to yield a solid ground-ball percentage, which adds to both his floor and ceiling. One thing to note is the somewhat drastic difference in his mechanics from the stretch compared to the set; obviously he can’t have that leg kick with a runner on first base, but I have to wonder if the Orioles may do something to bring those two elements a bit closer.
The early signing deadline is going to be enormous for moving these college types, like Gausman, through the system quickly. I don’t see any reason he wouldn’t sign given where he was drafted and the circumstances surrounding Appel falling, and unlike most top picks in most years previous to 2012, Gausman should be able to get into some significant game-action in August and perhaps even late July. I’d expect the Orioles to assign him to Lo-A Delmarva, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he saw some time at Hi-A Frederick, either. He’ll need some time in the minors to refine his secondary offerings (curveball/slider in particular, whatever the Orioles decide to have him go with), so I don’t expect a Sonny Gray-like promotion to AA to start his career.
Gausman’s polished, but given that he had two years in college instead of three, and that he does need to do some work with some of his pitches and perhaps his stretch delivery, I tend to think his likely ETA is 2014, perhaps toward the middle of it. I would be very surprised if he’s not pitching for AA Bowie at some point in 2013, which makes a late-season cup of coffee possible, but I’d count on 2014 for Gausman breaking into the bigs.
When he gets there, I could see a pitcher that avoids the long-ball and throws strikes, building largely off his fastball. His change-up should be a weapon, but the development of his slider will likely determine where he sits in the rotation spectrum.
Gausman was a fine, expected, solid pick. I loved him two years ago when the Dodgers had drafted him and frankly wish that they made more of a concerted effort to land him instead of using him as just a back-up for Zach Lee. I suspect they regret it now.
It’s important to remember that Gausman isn’t Stephen Strasburg, nor is he a prospect as well-regarded as Trevor Bauer or Danny Hultzen last year; at the same time, he should be a major league contributor with varying outcomes depending on the further development of his pitches. I do think the Orioles made a smart decision avoiding the wear-and-tear of a third year of college with Gausman, who should have a slightly lower injury risk as a result.
He’s not flashy like Carlos Correa or Byron Buxton, but he’ll reach the majors before either of them and he should do so with little risk of being converted to the bullpen. In a weaker draft, as an Orioles fan, I’d be completely fine with this selection.