Fans of a rebuilding team that has the worst record of any team in MLB don’t get too many exciting days at the big league level. One of the few things that can bring some excitement is when a prospect who’s been talked about for years gets his callup. That makes today one of those exciting days for Orioles fans, as pitching prospect Mike Baumann is joining the team. The Baltimore Sun’s Nathan Ruiz first reported on the news. The team made the official announcement a few hours before the first pitch of Tuesday’s game against the Royals.
Different prospect ranking sites have Baumann placed in different places, but there’s broad agreement that the 25-year-old right-hander is one of the top ten prospects in the system. He’s either the third- or fourth-best pitching prospect in the system, behind the obvious two names of Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall. Some publications have Kyle Bradish edging out Baumann. Others have Baumann ahead of Bradish.
Baumann was the Orioles third round pick in the 2017 draft, out of Jacksonville University. As a fun twist, the O’s selected another player from Jacksonville University in the third round one year prior: Austin Hays. They will now be teammates at the big league level. That’s pretty cool.
Having been drafted in 2017 makes Baumann one of the holdover prospects from the later years of the Dan Duquette era. Depending on how things go with some current fringe prospects, Baumann could be the final Duquette-drafted college player to debut with the Orioles.
Baumann is definitely the last to debut out of a wave of prospects that at the start of this season included Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer, Zac Lowther, and Alexander Wells. The 2021 season has not been kind to that class of player. Perhaps Baumann can squeeze out some success in the season’s waning weeks.
An elbow issue that cut short Baumann’s work at last summer’s alternate training site also kept him from making his 2021 minor league debut until late May. He did not have an outing of at least five innings until July. The Orioles have been bringing him along slowly. Once they really let him loose, Baumann ripped off a four-start stretch where he held batters to a .169/.210/.234 batting line. That was enough for the O’s to send him up another level to Triple-A Norfolk.
Since joining the Tides, Baumann has made six starts, giving up just six earned runs across 27 innings. That’s a 2.00 ERA. He’s been striking out nearly a batter per inning and has a WHIP of 1.148, even despite a BB/9 of 4.3. The Orioles added him to the 40-man roster last winter to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, and again it seems they’ve seen enough to give him a shot in Baltimore as this year closes out.
Baumann had been scheduled to make the start for Norfolk on Tuesday. Manager Brandon Hyde told Orioles reporters that Baumann will be in a bulk relief role initially. Jorge López’s ankle injury in Monday’s game against the Royals opens up the immediate opportunity for Baumann. Hyde called that injury serious, potentially season-ending.
There could be a start or two as the O’s play out the string on 2021, depending on how the Orioles choose to juggle players and innings. Other than John Means, no one has proven of himself that he absolutely must remain in the rotation from now until season’s end.
The bullpen has long been seen as Baumann’s potential long-term destination, as he’s one of those guys who has two definite good pitches (in his case, a fastball and a slider) with work to do on others. Here’s what MLB Pipeline wrote about him in its midseason update, where he came in as the #10 prospect in the system:
Standing 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, Baumann uses his frame and simple, repeatable delivery to create a downhill plane that accentuates his stuff. His fastball sits 94-95 and flashes 98-99 mph at times, with late life that he maintains deep in games. A plus power slider is the better of his two breaking balls, thrown in the high 80s to elicit swings and misses. Baumann’s changeup has improved immensely since his college days, and he is still working to develop a fringy curve. Both will be integral in whether he ultimately sticks as a starter at the highest level. Baumann’s longer arm action has also led to command issues at times.
In some ways, it’s a surprise to see Baumann up on the Orioles now, since Mike Elias has not tended to move his prospects along with rapid MLB-levle promotions. Baumann has only those 27 innings above Double-A under his belt, due to the 2020 minor league season being wiped out and his elbow issue last summer lingering on through to spring training.
It’s also not a surprise, because Elias said before the season began that every pitcher on the 40-man roster at the start of the season would probably appear with the Orioles at some point. Baumann’s the last guy to make an appearance out of that group. He will be 26 years old in three days time. That’s the kind of player where you can look at him and say that whatever development he may have left to do, he can just do it in MLB.
The Orioles decisionmakers can start to get some high-level data about Baumann facing MLB competition and that can shape some of their offseason decisions about how to plan for next year’s pitching staff. Hopefully for Baumann’s sake and the sake of the rebuild project, he can make a good first impression.