A Diamond in the Rough
Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
The Baltimore Orioles’ pitching this year has not performed well. Critics would tell you the one thing that is consistent with the Oriole starters is their ability to get the pitch count up early which leads to an early exit from games usually around the fifth or sixth inning.
Of the five Orioles starters, Chris Tillman and Bud Norris have solidified themselves as the top-tier guys for the team with Wei-Yin Chen right behind them. The other two starters, Ubaldo Jimenez and Miguel Gonzalez, have had some good outings, but with a combined 4-9 record, these two have both critics and fans wondering if they should be in the rotation because of their lack of production.
If Buck Showalter wants to remain in postseason contention for the rest of this season, I think the organization has no choice but to either try to trade for at least one other starter or take a chance and bring up a starter from the Minor Leagues.
This second option is tough because it is hard for a scout or a manager to look at a young player in the Minors and decide if he is both physically and mentally ready to step on the mound and go “toe-to-toe” with big league hitters, like a Miguel Cabrera or a Jose Bautista.
Of the Orioles top 20 prospects, twelve of them are pitchers. Of these twelve, two of them are scheduled to arrive in the Majors this year: Eduardo Rodriguez (AA) and Mike Wright (AAA). Along with these two, Kevin Gausman (AAA) will more than likely come back up to Baltimore ball club this season (Gausman is not on the official top 20 prospect list because he came off of it when he made his Major League debut earlier this month).
Ranked as the No.2 prospect in the Orioles Minor League system by MLB.com and #59 overall of the top 100 prospects in the country, Rodriguez has made much improvement since being drafted by the Orioles in 2010. Last year, Rodriguez made the jump from Single-A Frederick to Double-A Bowie. His statistics since making the step up to Double-A are as follows:
- 5-5 record in 15 starts
- 4.57 ERA
- 80.2 innings pitched
- 1.302 WHIP
Bernie Pleskoff of MLB.com scouted Rodriguez and says the 21-year-old has amazing “self-confidence and doesn’t get rattled.” His two-seam and four-seam fastball have speeds in the lower 90s and they also break just before they arrive at the plate.
The slider-fastball combination of Rodriguez makes it difficult for batters to read. In his scouting report of Rodriguez, Pleskoff said, “Given his unusually good pace and tempo, Rodriguez makes it difficult for the hitter to see the ball coming out of his hand.”
Watching Rodriguez pitch, he does not try to get too fancy with his pitching style. He simplifies everything and maintains smooth mechanics throughout each of the innings he is on the mound for. Pleskoff said after Rodriguez is more comfortable pitching inside to batters, he predicts Rodriguez to be a “solid No. 3 starter for the Orioles”
Drafted by the Orioles in 2011, the No. 5 prospect in the Baltimore farm system has been making his way up the “ladder” of the Minor Leagues and is currently a starter for the Norfolk Tides. In 2012, Wright made the switch from Frederick to Bowie. In 2013, he improved again by going up to Norfolk mid-season. His statistics since making his debut in Triple-A last year are as follows:
- 1-2 record in 10 games started
- 4.64 ERA
- 52.1 innings pitched
- 1.414 WHIP
Wright’s fastball can reach 95 mph, but it usually sits in the lower 90s. Scouting reports have his off speed pitches as just average, but Wright hides them in his arsenal by using the same arm slot to throw all of them.
Wright is known more for his control than actual pinpoint accuracy. The scouting report on Orioles.com of Wright says he is a “workhorse starter” which is something many would call Norris as of late.
Drafted by the Orioles in the first round of the 2012 MLB Draft, Gausman’s progress has been the fastest of all the pitchers in the Orioles’ farm system. Just a year after he was drafted by the ball club, Gausman made his Major League debut. It was clear Gausman had exponential talent, but it was talent that still needed molding in the Minors. Currently pitching for the Norfolk Tides, Gausman’s statistics in Triple-A over two seasons are as follows:
- 1-4 record in 14 games started
- 3.51 ERA
- 66.2 innings pitched
- 1.335 WHIP
Gausman’s fastball usually sits in the mid-90s. He uses his long arms and good extension to create hard downward plane on his fastball. He likes to pitch inside to batters in order to back them up off the plate then comes back with his change up that is in the 80s.
He has consistent mechanics and fields his position well. He also has great command of his pitches. Watching Gausman pitch in the Majors before, people can tell he has no fear in staring down some of the League’s best. With all the makings of a potential ace in Baltimore, it is only a matter of time before the Orioles make the call to bring Gausman up for good.
Will Rodriguez, Wright, or Gausman be the key to the Orioles’ starting pitching woes? In the Minor Leagues, there are several players who are not and will never be good enough to make it to the Majors. Which of these three pitchers will prove to be a diamond in the rough for the Baltimore Orioles? Time will tell.