Could 30 pounds be the difference between a successful 2014 and a disappointing one for the Baltimore Orioles?
Orioles’ manager Buck Showalter was encouraged last week when two of the team’s possible 2014 X-factors, designated hitter and left fielder Henry Urrutia and pitcher Kevin Gausman, reported to the team’s mini-camp with some additional bulk, according to MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko.
Urrutia gained 18 pounds during the off-season while Gausman packed on 12. Both players are prospects the Orioles are hoping can make a leap and establish themselves in big leagues and fill potential weaknesses on the roster. If Urrutia plays his way into a platoon at designated hitter and left field, and Gausman contributes as either a fifth starting pitcher with tremendous upside or takes a spot in the bullpen, each player would sure-up positions that could have been filled with replacement-level players.
Gausman, the 2012 number four overall draft pick, is a big part of the Orioles future. As the second part of the what the team hopes will be a fearsome one-two top-of-the-rotation punch with top prospect Dylan Bundy, Gausman has been off-the-table in trade discussions and the team appears committed long term.
The right-handed power pitcher was fast-tracked through the Orioles’ minor league system and appeared in his first major league game May 23. His first stay with the Orioles was brief. He started five games, posting an 0-3 record and a 7.66 ERA. Later in the season, he was recalled twice by the team and performed admirably as a reliever, going 3-2 with a 3.52 ERA.
Although Gausman’s first attempt at starting in the majors didn’t go as he or the Orioles would have liked, Gausman will definitely be given another chance to earn a starting job. Whether that happens this year seems to depend on if the team signs another more established piece for the rotation.
The Orioles rotation currently has four pieces that can be penciled in for a spot in Chris Tillman, Wei Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, and Bud Norris. If the Orioles add another veteran, Bronson Arroyo or Paul Maholm, for example, Gausman would probably not get his chance in the rotation right away and head for either AAA Norfolk or a spot in the bullpen.
However, if Gausman receives his opportunity, the 12 pounds he gained this off-season can only benefit the young pitcher. Gausman said he lost weight while in the majors and began to tire late in the season.
“Toward the end of the stretch, in August, was a real month I had to grind because I had never pitched in August before, so there’s about two weeks in August when I was really kind of hanging a little bit,” Gausman told Kubatko. “But now I feel like I’ve gone through the first full season and I can kind of hit the ground running.”
Unless Gausman proves he’s truly ready to be a big league starter in spring training, I think the Orioles would prefer to let Gausman get more seasoning in AAA. However, if manager Buck Showalter and general manager Dan Duquette don’t feel like the big team’s options are good enough in the bullpen, Gausman could be a reliable option there.
For now, the Orioles can pencil in Tommy Hunter, Darren O’Day, Ryan Webb, Alfredo Aceves, and Brian Matusz in the their bullpen. The team would probably love both Zach Britton and Josh Stinson, who are out of options, to win the remaining two spots. Gausman’s inclusion in the bullpen as the Orioles break spring training becomes more likely if one of those two, especially Stinson, who is one of several virtually interchangeable right-handed bullpen options, pitches his way out of a job.
Urrutia drew rave reviews from both members of the media and manager Buck Showalter when he showed up to Orioles mini camp 18 pounds heavier and with more muscle definition. Urrutia was the only non-catching position player that came to the team’s mini camp in Sarasota, Florida, and he sent a message that he’s serious about making the big league club in 2014.
Before last week I would have projected Urrutia starting the year in minors to gain some needed experience playing left field, but after Kubatko and Eduardo Encina of the Baltimore Sun both commented on his batting practice sessions and Showalter openly praised him, I think he will serve as the Orioles’ primary left-handed designated hitter.
Increased power from the additional weight could make Urrutia a valuable asset for this club. He batted .276 over 24 games last year, but only slugged .310. Fifteen of Urrutia’s 16 hits were singles and he only tallied two RBI.
One area that I’m sure the Orioles’ would also like Urrutia to improve is his batting eye at the major league level. He did not take a single walk in any of his 58 at-bats with the Orioles. However, Urrutia did not have that problem while he was in the minor leagues. Between 81 games with AA Bowie and AAA Norfolk, Urrutia had an OBP of .406. If that statistic translates to the major league this year, he could help raise the collective OBP of a team that finished 7 points below the American League average last year, posting a .313 OBP.
Like Gausman, Urrutia is the option that has the most upside at his position. If Urrutia, 26, and Gausman, 22, can break out and win jobs in spring training, it means that the Orioles’ young core of talent is expanding. Both of these players stepping up could save the team from replacement level production for a year in the fifth starter, long relief, or designated hitter roles. Weaknesses at those positions were exposed ad nauseam in 2013 with Orioles’ designated hitters only batting .245 and struggling Orioles’ starters including Jake Arrieta and Jason Hammel filling starting games.
Hopefully, the development of Urrutia and Gausman’s game matches the development of their bodies and they become solid contributors on the 2014 Baltimore Orioles. If they do, the Orioles roster looks much stronger than it once did. To continue to compete in the American League East, it looks like Orioles will need internal improvement. If Gausman and Urrutia can take the necessary step and impact this team, a playoff run might not be as far out of reach as once thought for fans frustrated by the Orioles lack of off-season activity.