Pitching prospects could give O's a boost
Young righties Gausman, Bundy look to contribute to Baltimore's rotation
Kevin Gausman stood in the Orioles' clubhouse on June 7 following a victory against the Athletics, and finally, the questions are positive. He's soft-spoken yet sure of himself -- a confidence that comes with holding the best team in the American League to just one run in seven innings.
It's what Gausman was supposed to do all along for Baltimore, since he entered the season as the top prospect in the organization. But for all the tantalizing potential and flashes of excellence, it wasn't until he got his chance against Oakland that he finally put it all together.
"More than anything, it was just kind of getting deep into a game," Gausman said. "Coming out of the bullpen, that's really where I learned how to pitch."
Something, it seems, is different about Gausman this time around. Maybe it's the new glasses he has to push back into place every time he fires a 95-mph fastball to the plate. Or maybe it's the fact that he can finally get those pitches to stay where he wants them to go.
In four starts this season -- and more specifically the two during his most recent stint with the Orioles -- Gausman, who began the season as the top prospect in the organization, has already changed the complexion of the O's rotation.
Less than a week later, Baltimore's new top prospect addressed the media at a news conference at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, Md. Dylan Bundy was just days away from making his long-awaited return from Tommy John surgery with Class A Short-Season Aberdeen as he tries to make a push to reach the Majors.
"I feel like I can be the same pitcher I used to be," Bundy said during the news conference. "It just takes time."
Gausman seems to be in the Majors to stay. Bundy could be back by the end of the season -- manager Buck Showalter called it "realistic." The two of them -- together the organization's latest crop of golden arms -- could change the shape of this season for the Orioles. In ways, they already have.
In two starts since that outing against the A's, Gausman has allowed just one run and struck out eight in 12 innings. Against the Rays on Wednesday, he threw a career-most 111 pitches.
At some point this season, it's likely that Bundy will join Gausman in orange and black. He may not start a game, but there will be ways for him to contribute -- there's a reason the O's so rabidly hunted for pitchers during the 2014 First-Year Player Draft.
Since Baltimore returned to sustained relevancy with an impressive 2012 season, it has been carried by its offense and often won in spite of mediocre pitching. Past prospects, such as Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman and Zach Britton, have found roles, but not the level of success the Orioles expected. Gausman and Bundy can change that in 2014.
"I just want to get through my rehab process healthy," Bundy said, "and then get out there competing again."
And those aren't the only two arms that Baltimore could call upon as reinforcements down the stretch. Mike Wright has struggled, but the organization's No. 5 prospect has played the entire season with Triple-A Norfolk. Eduardo Rodriguez and Tim Berry, a pair of 23-year-old lefties, are the No. 2 and 6 prospects, respectively, and both are playing for Double-A Bowie.
Hunter Harvey, a 19-year-old righty with Class A Delmarva, and Josh Hart, an outfielder for the Shorebirds, round out the organization's top 5 prospects. A pair of catchers, Michael Olman and Chance Sisco, rank No. 7 and 8, which is why Baltimore didn't draft a catcher in 2014.
"We like the guys we took last year," O's director of scouting Gary Rajsich said. "We want them to develop and play. Plus, it would be unfair if we got any new catchers that probably wouldn't get as much playing time as they need."
By the end of the summer, once some of these farmhands have made it to the Majors or earned promotions in the Minors, the list will look different, albeit with a similar feel. Bundy, Gausman and Wright may be gone, with names like Brian Gonzalez, Pat Connaughton and David Hess taking their place.
Baltimore has always known its need. This summer could finally be the time that tangible results can swing a season in its favor.
"It's based on how you perform," Gausman said. "If I keep pitching well, I'll probably stay here. If I don't, I'll go down. When you get an opportunity, you've got to take it."
David Wilson is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.