This article is part of the Know Your Orioles 40-man series, which features an article about each of the 38 players currently on the Orioles roster. There will be one every weekday until we run out of players.
With MLB labor negotiations finally, kinda, sorta looking like they’re getting somewhere, it’s time for Orioles fans to start to getting excited about which pitching prospect is finally going to make it this year … and fret about how the heck this team is going to fill out a complete starting rotation.
Last year, Orioles starters were simply dreadful, with a 5.99 combined ERA that ranked dead last in the majors. It wasn’t pretty. Matt Harvey led the team in starts with 28, but also pitched to a 6.72 ERA. Jorge López had 25 starts and another plus-6 ERA.
It was an especially tough year for rookie starters. Keegan Akin pitched himself out of the rotation in the spring, and then (17 starts, 6.63 ERA) almost out of a job the rest of the year. Dean Kremer (13 starts, 7.55 ERA) never pulled it together. Zac Lowther and his 2.61 career minors ERA debuted in April, then allowed seven runs to the Boston Red Sox in 2.1 innings and wasn’t spotted again until June. Alexander Wells, another control artist with a long record of success in the minors, put up a 1.62 WHIP and the worst walk rate of his career (3.4) in 42 innings. Bruce Zimmermann was pretty much the only rookie rotation candidate to escape without egg on his face, and he, too, looked fringey at times.
Which brings us to Mike Baumann, another heralded O’s pitching prospect from the Dan Duquette days who finally got the call-up in 2021. With a -0.4 WAR and 9.90 ERA for the Orioles in four appearances, it’d be hard to say that last season was a standout for Baumann.
But unlike some one-and-done pitching auditions, there is a lot more to see from Baumann, still the O’s No. 10 prospect, and the club knows it.
The Atlantic Sun Pitcher of the Year with the Jacksonville Dolphins in 2015, Baumann was a teammate of Austin Hays who caught scouts’ eye when they came to see Hays. Baltimore drafted the big righty the year after Hays, in the third round in 2017.
Baumann’s stellar minors career began with a 4-2 record and 1.31 ERA for Low-A Aberdeen in 2017. The next season, he went 13-5 with a 3.17 ERA between Delmarva and Frederick. In 2019, Baumann threw a complete game-, 10-strikeout no-hitter for Double-A Bowie en route to splitting O’s minor-league Pitcher of the Year honors with Grayson Rodriguez. To date, Baumann has an enviable 2.94 career ERA and 1.129 WHIP in four seasons in the minors. An 8.9 career minors strikeout rate isn’t crazy, but he is a guy who can miss bats. Says MLB Pipeline:
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 spent 2020 at the alternate training site in Bowie, but his season was cut short due to an elbow flexor strain that didn’t require surgery. The team added him to the 40-man in November 2020, and although people expected Baumann not to miss any time in 2021, he spent most of the season in the minors rehabbing.
Baumann’s MLB debut finally came on September 7, 2021, and in four outings thereafter, he put up a 9.90 ERA with 13 hits allowed in ten innings. His numbers were deformed by two poor outings against Boston and Toronto, compared to two shutout appearances in relief against Kansas City and Texas. As MASN’s Steve Melewski calls it, a cameo.
However, Melewski also hazards that Baumann’s 2021 can be considered a success because the big righty threw a combined 80 2/3 innings between Delmarva, Double-A Bowie, Triple-A Norfolk and Baltimore and ended the year healthy. Further, prior to getting called up, “Big Mike” had put together 10 straight starts between Bowie and Norfolk in which he allowed two earned runs or fewer. He went 1-1 with a 2.00 ERA in six starts for the Tides, racking up 26 strikeouts, a .194 batting average against and a 1.15 WHIP.
At this point, Baumann has already accomplished everything he needs to in the minors. To make it in the big leagues, he’ll need to resolve some borderline command issues (e.g., a 3.7 career minors walk rate). Still, with the highest ceiling of any O’s pitching prospect not named Rodriguez or Hall, he’s a strong candidate for the rotation in 2022.
To stick there, he’ll need to keep refining his curveball and changeup. Last year, he threw those two pitches 5.9% and 3.2% of the time, respectively, the former pitch with an expected WOBA of .805. There is work to be done, clearly. On the other hand, if his secondary pitches don’t develop, MLB Pipeline still proclaims Baumann’s floor to be that of an impact reliever with a “devastating” fastball-slider combination. I think Orioles fans could live with that.
End-of-season prediction: Baumann didn’t shine in 2021, but this is not a Yusniel Díaz-type situation where the team’s patience is wearing thin. With all of ten MLB innings under his belt, the team’s No. 10 prospect will be getting a solid chance to compete in 2022. I predict that Baumann will spend some time in the minors this season but finish the season in the majors as a back-end starter.
Previously: Félix Bautista, Logan Gillaspie, Isaac Mattson, Cionel Pérez, Bryan Baker, Rougned Odor, Joey Krehbiel, Tyler Nevin, Kyle Bradish, Rylan Bannon, Yusniel Díaz, Kelvin Gutiérrez, Kevin Smith, Terrin Vavra, D.L. Hall, Jahmai Jones, Bruce Zimmermann
Tomorrow: Ryan McKenna