The emergence of Mychal Givens as a dominant force in the Orioles bullpen may prove to be one of the shining lights in a 2015 season that was largely a disappointment for Baltimore. And to think that he started his professional career as a light-hitting shortstop.
Back in 2009, Givens was a second-round selection out of Plant High School in Tampa, Florida. In his first season of professional baseball (2010) he played at four different levels, finishing up at High-A Frederick as a 20-year-old. This quick movement up the ladder was enough for Baseball America to name him the O's seventh-best prospect at the time. BA went on to say he had the best infield arm in the Orioles system and was also their best athlete.
Long story short: Givens maintained his rocket arm but he slashed just .247/.331/.311 over 907 at-bats and his fielding was a problem. He has a career fielding percentage of .952 as a second baseman and .940 as a shortstop when you combine time spent in affiliated ball, the Arizona Fall League and his stint in an Australian league. He hit like a slick-fielding middle infielder, but fielded like Roger Dorn at the beginning of Major League.
He came back as a pitcher and began to assert himself as a decent professional pitcher, tossing up a 4.22 ERA with low-A Delmarva in 2013 and a 3.53 ERA in 2014 with both Frederick and Double-A Bowie. The baseball world took notice and he was back as a legitimate prospect for the O's.
The start of 2015 saw him return to Bowie. He went from pretty good to dominating the Eastern League. Over 57.1 innings with the Baysox, Givens pitched to a 4-2 record with 15 saves and a 1.73 ERA while striking out 12.40 batters per nine innings and walking just 2.51 in the same timeframe.
Those numbers were too much for the Orioles to resist. Givens made his way to the big league club on three separate occasions and was just as good in Baltimore as he had been down on the farm, quickly becoming one of manager Buck Showalter's preferred weapons of choice.
Over 22 appearances and 30 innings in Charm City, Givens notched an ERA of 1.80, a FIP of 1.73 and an ERA+ of 232. He struck out 11.40 per nine innings while walking just 1.80. His WHIP was 0.867 and he allowed only one home run.
Although he only played for a short time, Givens managed to accumulate a WAR of 1.0 from Baseball Reference and 0.8 from Fangraphs. Not bad value for a former shortstop that, while impressive at times prior to this year, probably was not expected to make such a big contribution this summer.
Givens does seem like a prime candidate for the dreaded "sophomore slump" in 2016. Although I don't think it will be as severe as some believe. His batting average against on balls in play was .268, not terribly low, but low enough that there could be some regression since he was pitching close to the .300 average as a minor leaguer. He also was walking less people than he ever had before while coming close to maintaining his ridiculously high strikeout rate. As hitters get a look at him, his unique mechanics and that mid-90s fastball, they will get a bit more disciplined.
FanGraphs uses Steamer projections to predict how a player will perform in the future. They have Givens pegged to pitch 55 innings in 2016 with a 3.76 ERA. As expected, they have bumped his BABIP up to .288, doubled his walks and cut down his strikeouts some. Fair enough, but I see him more as a 2.50 ERA type of guy who still racks up plenty of strikeouts. His arm slot is just funky enough and he throws a lot harder than most guys who come from that lower angle.
With Darren O'Day set to become a free agent in a matter of weeks, Givens could be handed a more prominent role in the Orioles bullpen next year should O'Day sign elsewhere. Showalter may prefer a more veteran presence like righty Brad Brach in an eighth inning role, but Givens could become a key cog in the bridge between the starters and closer Zach Britton. In my mind, he is a shoo-in to make the 25-man roster out of Spring Training as long as he stays healthy and could turn in another stellar campaign.