By Rich Arleo
CBS Local Sports, in our 30 Players 30 Days spring training feature, profiles one young player from each Major League Baseball team leading up to opening day.
Kevin Gausman, Starting Pitcher, Baltimore Orioles
2015 season (Majors): 25 G, 17 GS, 112.1 IP, 4.25 ERA, 1.228 WHIP, 4 W, 103 SO, 29 BB
Kevin Gausman is entering his fourth season with the Orioles, and after being considered one of the top pitching prospects in baseball just a few years ago, the results just haven’t been there. The right-hander has gone back and forth from the rotation to the bullpen over the course of three seasons, but if Gausman can overcome an over-reliance on his fastball and better develop his secondary pitches, he could finally seal a spot in the rotation and break out during his age-25 season.
Many expected 2015 to be the year Gausman began to put it together, but he was put in the bullpen as a long reliever to start the year and struggled mightily out of the gate. He gave up six earned runs in six innings over his first four appearances, and shortly after missed time due to right shoulder tendonitis. Gausman came back as a starter, but went back and forth between the Minors and the O’s before finally sticking in Baltimore near the end of July. Over his final 14 games, all starts, he posted a respectable 4.01 ERA with seven quality starts. There were still struggles, but Gausman was at least able to find footing with a set role.
Entering 2016, Gausman has the inside track on a rotation spot, but he’ll have to impress in Spring Training in order to keep it. His four-seam fastball consistently sits in the mid-90s, averaging 95.2 mph according to PITCHf/x data on Fangraphs and yielding an impressive 21-percent strikeout rate. The fastball is the pitch that made him a top prospect in the first place, and it’s been his most successful to date. The problem is the rest of his arsenal, as he has yet to find reliable second and third pitches — which is why he’s had more success as a reliever (3.86 ERA and .214 opponents’ average in 35 innings, as opposed to a 4.27 ERA and .261 average in 238 1/3 innings as a starter).
If Gausman can be more consistent with his split-change, which has been filthy at times when he’s locating, he’ll be able to fool more hitters deep in games and should be trusted to go six, seven innings. If the fastball continues to be the only plus-pitch he shows, then he could find himself back in a relief role.
Gausman showed marked improvement in most major categories last year, getting more swings and misses and walking fewer batters. Should Gausman get to start the season in the rotation and be given the nod every five days, he should be able to get in a groove and become a middle-of-the-rotation staple for the O’s.
Rich Arleo is a freelance sports writer and editor who covers Major League Baseball and fantasy sports. You can follow him on Twitter, @Rarleo.