The Norfolk Tides get their season started on Thursday, April 3rd against the Charlotte Knights. They're not the sexiest minor league team in the system, as AAA doesn't often get the hot prospects. But there is one exceptional player starting the season with the Tides and a number of players you might see this year via the Norfolk Express to Baltimore. Here are a few that may be of interest to you.
Kevin Gausman: The biggest name down in Norfolk this season, and one who hopefully won't be there too long, is starting pitcher Kevin Gausman. Baseball America's #20 prospect going into the season, Gausman was a longshot to make the Orioles rotation in spring training, and will be the Tides' Opening Day pitcher. With a fastball that sits comfortably in the mid-90s and a plus changeup that is about 10-12 mph slower, Gausman will be honing his skills and working to improve his additional pitches before his inevitable call up to Baltimore.
Eddie Gamboa: Before he converted himself into a knuckleballer, Eddie Gamboa pitched split time between starting and relieving in the minors. But he spent all of 2013 in the rotation, first with Bowie and then with Norfolk. In five spring training appearances he allowed just one hit and one walk. It remains to be seen if Gamboa has enough control over his knuckler to be effective in the majors, and he can manage to do it as a starter. He seems like a prime bullpen candidate to me.
Steve Johnson: Steve "Son of Dave" Johnson was one of the names said to be in competition for the fifth starter spot, but it was never really serious. Johnson is the kind of guy you stash at AAA and call up when you need one start because the regular pitcher has the stomach flu. That guy is important, but not very exciting.
T.J. McFarland: After living large on the league minimum for the O's in 2013, the Rule 5 pick can now be sent down to the Norfolk rotation where he belongs. He spent 2012 at AAA in the Indians organization with pedestrian results and seems to me destined for a career in middle relief, at best.
Mike Wright: After uninspiring results his first two years in pro ball, Mike Wright turned it up in 2013 with a 8.5 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, and 3.26 ERA/3.14 FIP in 26 starts a AA Bowie. John Sickels ranked Wright as the O's 8th best prospect in 2014 and gave him a possible career path like that of Jeff Suppan.Not anyone's dream comparison, but a very useful piece of a major league team.
Suk-Min Yoon: Signed to a three-year deal by the Orioles in the off season, this is the only year the Orioles are allowed to send Yoon to the minors. He no doubt wants to be a starter, and he might get his chance, but his destiny seems to be the bullpen. Time will tell. Learn more about the new Oriole in our write up from a few weeks ago.
Brad Brach: The Orioles got Brad Brach from the Padres in November. He has pitched in 109 games in the majors with varying levels of success, but the fact that he has an option made him expendable to the minor leagues for now. I fully expect him to see time in the O's bullpen this season.
Of these seven players, Gausman, McFarland, Johnson, Yoon, and Brach are on the Orioles' 40-man roster.
Henry Urrutia - OF/DH: The Orioles are light on hitting prospects, and Henry Urrutia is the only hitter on the AAA roster that really stands out as a possible impact player in the majors. Urrutia was the singles king last season, but has bulked up over the winter and hopefully will see his power blossom. He could see time with the Orioles this year if and when Delmon Young or Steve Pearce wear out their welcome, or if there is an injury to one of the regulars.
Alexi Casilla - SS/2B: Casilla's only saving grace is that he can play shortstop. If he ends on up on Orioles this year it means that either Hardy or Flaherty is down with an injury, and it will be a bad thing.
Brett Wallace - 1B: Wallace was an interesting pick up by the Orioles during spring training. He is most likely to end up in the Conor Jackson/Brandon Wood category of former prospects who never get it together, but a guy like that is always worth taking a chance in the minors. He never put it together in parts of four seasons with the Astros, but his minor league numbers remain enticing.
Of these four hitters, Urrutia and Weeks are on the 40-man.
If you're interested in the Tides, be sure to check in to our daily minor league recaps. They'll begin on Friday. And our Tides reporter, Ted Warren, will be back this season to bring you coverage of the O's AAA team. Stay tuned over the next few days for season previews on the Delmarva Shorebirds, Frederick Keys, and Bowie Baysox.