Kevin Gausman, the 4th overall pick in 2012, has the inside track on a rotation spot with the Orioles this spring, and manager Buck Showalter appears to be on board with that, writes Eduardo Encina of The Baltimore Sun. That's always a good sign when it comes down to the final spot in a rotation or on a roster. There are some managers that lean towards veterans over young players, but Showalter appears to be leaning towards the most talented player. That bodes well for Gausman.
The right-hander bounced back and forth last season between the minors and the majors and the starting rotation and the major league bullpen in a number of moves that were made more out of the desperation of the organization to return to the post-season than with the long-term development of Gausman in mind. The result was a rough season for Gausman, especially at the start when he was called up in May, less than a year after being drafted out of LSU in a move that even at the time seemed rushed and desperate.*
*It should be noted that Gausman was pretty unlucky in the majors last season, with a slightly high .328 BABIP and a very high 18.6 percent of his flyballs going for home runs. His ERA slash line of 5.66/3.99/3.04 shows the difference in how he pitched.
This season is different, however, though one can argue by how much. After his initial stint in the big leagues, Gausman returned to Triple-A and had moderate success. The numbers weren't all that impressive, but the stuff still was and he was still just 22-years-old. The Orioles are counting on the fact that his time spent in the big leagues last season will expedite his development and maturity and bridge the gap between talent in success.
In the big leagues, however, the numbers will matter. They will be magnified and scrutinized, and any decision to keep him in the majors will be questioned, fair or not, if he does not get off to a good start. Gausman may well be one of the Orioles five best starters, but that should not be the crux of their decision. Gausman should only begin the season in the major leagues if he is ready to be the best version of himself.
The Orioles have been remarkably inactive this off-season for a team that appears to be ready to compete and is trying to sell their fanbase on a new era of winning baseball. Their inability to provide Showalter with better starting pitching options should not be used as a reason to keep Gausman in the majors before he is ready.
Who knows where Gausman is right now. We will see come spring in Sarasota. Perhaps his off-season throwing has helped bridge the gap from the prospect whose top-of-the-line stuff failed to translate into big league outs last season. Perhaps he is ready to be the front-line starter that he projects to be (he is, after all, on the short list of the best pitching prospects in all of baseball).
But if he is not, if he is still the raw but incredibly talented pitcher that he was last fall, then he should not begin the season in Baltimore regardless of the Orioles' needs. There is too much talent and projection in Gausman's right arm to call him up again before he is ready.