Baltimore Orioles 2013 in review: Kevin Gausman

USA TODAY Sports

The Orioles' top prospect had an up-and-down 2013 campaign. What will 2014 hold for the team's hopeful ace of the future?

The Orioles' top pick in the 2012 draft (and the 4th pick overall in that draft), Kevin Gausman took his place immediately alongside Dylan Bundy as the great white hope of the future of the team's starting rotation. Gausman pitched his first few professional innings in A-ball to close out the 2012 season, and arrived at 2013 spring training with high hopes that he would hit the Orioles rotation within the space of the new season. Well, he acquitted himself pretty well in the minor leagues, and he did earn that callup in late May, but things didn't go so well from there. Gausman bounced between Baltimore and Norfolk, he bounced between the rotation and the bullpen, and though he showed flashes of brilliance and the electric stuff that made him so highly touted, the results at the major league level were never quite there.

Gausman's overall 2013 MLB numbers aren't terribly impressive -- a 5.66 ERA in 20 appearances (5 of them starts), spanning 47.2 innings. He posted a nice 9.3 K/9, but he got batted around a bit, with 9.6 H/9 and a 1.34 WHIP. Advanced stat folks are quick to note that Gausman's FIP and xFIP are significantly below his ERA, largely due to a high BABIP, but 47.2 innings is a pretty small sample to draw a lot of information from, with either traditional or advanced stats.

The eye test in Gausman's limited time in the major leagues confirmed that he could bring the gas, and baffle hitters with his stuff when it was working. But it appeared that he had some learning to do in fooling major-league pitchers with his secondary pitches, and in keeping enough movement on his fastball to keep them from sitting on it.

Of course, there's also no shortage of criticism to levy on the Orioles in their usage of Gausman. Gausman was holding his own quite capably in AA Bowie when he was called directly up to the big club. After just five starts -- two pretty good and three rough -- Gausman was demoted to the Orioles bullpen for a few weeks (four appearances), after which he was sent to AAA Norfolk, where he made seven starts and one bullpen appearance. Then, at the end of July, he was called back up to the Orioles, making 11 appearances out of the pen, the longest being 2.2 innings and most being an inning or so. The Orioles' treatment of Gausman may have been largely out of necessity, but looking at it over the course of the entire season, it doesn't show any meaningful amount of planning, nor a commitment to a fixed conditioning routine for their most promising young player.

Gausman's going to be on the Orioles in 2014, the question is just how soon, and in what role. If the Orioles can re-sign Scott Feldman (or another similar #4 starter), and kick off the year with Bud Norris as the #5 starter, they'd be wise to kick off Gausman's season in Norfolk, make him earn his spot when one of the opening day starters inevitably struggles or gets injured. If the team's free agent attempts are a bust, they may have to choose between allowing a total question mark in the rotation (T.J. McFarland or Zach Britton, for example), or entrusting Gausman with a spot. The most important thing is for the team to put Gausman on a plan-- make him a starter, no going back Start the plan in spring training, and stick with it -- only adjusting his level and not his role. There's a high chance of Gausman making a meaningful contribution to the 2014 club, but it's important that he be handled correctly from this point forward.

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