For most prospects, the vast majority of them, a promotion comes with an acclimation period. The stats take a dip, the player learns what adjustments he has to make, and he either makes them and succeeds, or doesn’t and fizzles.
That’s usually the process. For Michael Baumann, it was the opposite. And that’s good news for the Orioles.
The 24-year-old right-hander was pretty good at the start of the year with High-A Frederick, pitching to a 3.83 ERA in 11 starts while posting a 1-4 record (understandable, since the Keys were a last-place team) and an impressive .203 batting average against.
Baumann then got the call-up to Double-A Bowie, and a good year became a great one. Everything improved: the ERA dropped to 2.31 in 13 appearances (11 starts), the record improved to 6-2, the opponents’ average shriveled to .186 and the WHIP, 1.19 in Frederick, was a 0.94 with the Eastern League finalists. He even threw in a no-hitter for good measure, a 10-strikeout gem on July 16 against the Harrisburg Senators.
All in all, Baumann went 7-6 with a 2.98 ERA, .194 average against, 1.05 WHIP and 142 strikeouts in 124 innings across the two tiers, staying healthy at each level. He’s now the club’s No. 9 prospect, marking a rebound after going from a ranking of 11th in 2017 to 21st in 2018.
It was a great development for the pitcher, who was taken in the third round in 2017 out of Jacksonville University. Baumann has had success at each of his stops in the Orioles’ system; he was 4-2 with a 1.31 ERA in Aberdeen in his pro debut in 2017, and he went 13-5 with a 3.17 ERA across both Delmarva and Frederick in 2018.
Without question, 2019 was a big step forward, particularly in how Baumann seamlessly adjusted to the stiffer competition in Double-A. He was an anchor in the rotation for a Baysox team that came within two games of an Eastern League championship, and he was consistent, only once allowing more than three earned runs in a start. When at his best, he was exceptional — see the aforementioned no-hitter.
According to his scouting report on MLB.com, Baumann’s size stands out, and combines with a fastball that he can ratchet up to 96 or 97 miles per hour to create the classic power pitcher mold. According to the report, his fastball has “a ton of late life,” and he has a good assortment of off-speed and breaking pitches with a curveball, a hard slider that can he can throw in the low 90s, and a changeup that’s getting better.
That’s the good — along with the stats at the Double-A level. Baumann was rarely hit, rarely hit hard, and his control got better as he went from walking 4 per nine innings to walking 2.7.
There are some “yeah, buts” in the mix here, though. One is Baumann’s motion, which his report indicates could be troublesome going forward:
Baumann misses his share of bats, although the effort in his delivery, along with his longer arm action, does raise questions about his ultimate command profile.
Another area where Baumann could improve is in the punchout department. Strikeouts were the one area in which the stronger competition made its presence felt; after striking out 77 in 54 innings at Frederick (12.83 per 9), he whiffed “only” 65 in 70 innings for Bowie. Certainly not a bad ratio, but his coaches and the Orioles’ front office would certainly like to see that number over a strikeout per inning while he’s in the minors.
Baumann’s exceptional 2019 keeps him on the fast track to the majors, but it’s still a guessing game as to when he’ll arrive. The MLB scouting report puts his ETA at 2020, but Fangraphs puts it at 2021. At this point, it’s hard to imagine him beginning next year with the big club. He’s indicated that he’s plenty ready for a higher level, but Bowie to Baltimore is a big jump, and perhaps too big unless the prospect in question is a high draft pick and mature beyond his years.
Certainly, though, a call-up to Triple-A Norfolk at either the start of 2020 or shortly after would make sense, and if he’s acing that challenge as well, the team might not wait too long to give him a shot in Camden Yards. With the state of the Orioles’ rotation, there aren’t exactly too many entrenched starters blocking him provided he’s showing he can handle the jump.