Prospect Report: Will Kevin Gausman Put His 2013 Struggles Behind Him?

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

Gausman’s first taste of the Majors went terribly, as he posted a 7.66 ERA and 1.62 WHIP as a starting pitcher. He did return later in the year and performed well out of the bullpen (3.52 ERA, 1.04 WHIP in 23.0 innings as a reliever), but his future clearly sits as a starter (at least that’s what the Orioles hope for).

It’s easy to write-off his poor starts, considering a 62.9% strand rate, .351 BABIP and 25.0% HR/FB. None of those numbers are believable, nor was his 27.8% line drive rate as a starter.  Yes, pitching in the AL East is difficult and Camden Yards isn’t the most favorable ballpark, but come on.

Rich Wilson of Prospect 361, in describing his arsenal, gave some indications of what the problems were (click here to read his full Top 10 Orioles prospects):

“It wasn’t all bad for the number four overall pick in the 2012 draft. He threw hard with his four-seam fastball averaging 96.69 MPH. It had decent movement but was hit hard implying that batters were picking it up very well. His 84 MPH change-up looked to be his best pitched with great sink and fade. He also threw a slider that graded out as average, but also came in at comparable speed to his change-up. The bottom line is his arsenal still has the ceiling of at least a number two starter at the highest level.”

We’ve heard about his change up in the past, with Baseball America prior to 2013 saying, “His 84-86 mph changeup is an easy plus pitch, and some scouts ranked it among the best they’ve seen at the amateur level.”

A first round pick in 2012, Gausman made quick work of the minors. He’s thrown 97.0 innings posting a 3.53 ERA and 1.13 WHIP. He has displayed excellent control, with a 1.39 BB/9, something that did translate well to the Majors (2.45 BB/9).

While the strikeouts weren’t there as a starting pitcher (7.30 K/9), they were coming out of the bullpen (11.35) and in the minors (8.81). Overall he owned a 9.8% SwStr%, an above average mark. The stuff is there to rack up the strikeouts, but at the least you would think he could post a mark around 7.75-8.00. Coupled with his control there is an awful lot to like there.

While he was often hit hard in the Majors, his minor league line drive rate was just 13.7% and his groundball rate was 48.0%. While those numbers won’t translate to the Majors, they do offer hope for significant improvement.

Why did Gausman struggle in the Majors? It’s very likely that he was simply rushed. His success coming out of the bullpen late in the year should help his confidence and there is no questioning the upside potential.

He is an obvious risk, but with an opening in the rotation there’s a good chance he fills it. While others will shy away after his struggles and gaudy numbers, don’t make that mistake. He’s well worth the investment late in your draft given his upside potential.

Sources – Fangraphs, Minor League Central, Baseball America, Prospect 361

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