The Baltimore Orioles are planning to promote pitching prospect Kevin Gausman on Thursday, according to Jon Morosi of FOX Sports. The move comes as a surprise, given that Orioles GM Dan Duquette said a week ago that Gausman was not a candidate to be called-up to fill one of the spots in their rotation.
Which is what scares me about this move. Having not had a chance to see Gausman in person this season, I can't tell you first hand whether or not he's ready to face major league hitters. I can only go off of what others say, and that can be dangerous. For instance, Jason Churchill of ESPN.com tweeted that scouts he talked to earlier this season didn't think Gausman was ready. On the other hand, J.D. Sussman of FanGraphs.com recently posted a scouting report calling for the Orioles to make exactly this move. And I know J.D. and respect his opinion.
But the Orioles' change of heart begs the question - what was their thinking and why did their mind change?
A win on Tuesday evening ended a six game skid for the Orioles, and with vacancies in their rotation, Gausman is probably their best option. With a 3.11 ERA and a 2.44 FIP in Double-A this season, Gausman has left little doubt that he's ready for a step up, and with his exceptional control (just under one walk per nine innings), he's at a low risk to self-combust if asked to make a jump to the majors. Additionally, he's the top prospect in an otherwise barren farm system.
But all of that was true a week ago. Was the Orioles recent losing streak really enough to change their mind?
If the issue a week ago was financially-related - in that they intended to hold him back past the Super-2 deadline but after six straight losses decided that it was worth the extra money they'll spend with that extra arbitration year to help right the ship now - then I'm ok with the decision. A change in financial strategy can be dictated by wins and losses on the field.
But if the Orioles internal evaluation was that Gausman wasn't quite ready for the majors, yet after a week of losses the Orioles decided that, ready or not, he was still their best option, then I'm not as sold. The Orioles are competing this season, and Gausman at even 75 percent of his potential may be their best option, but rushing their only healthy impact prospect in a panic mode could cost them. If Gausman is close, but not quite there, then a handful of additional minor league starts (perhaps at the Triple-A level) could be all he needs to be a truly impact pitcher down the stretch, a la Matt Harvey after his promotion last season. Calling him up before he's completely ready could leave them with an average pitcher for four months instead of an above-average one for two-and-a-half.
But again, I don't know the Orioles thinking. I hope that they felt he was ready all along and were trying to hold him back for financial reasons instead of rushing him to the majors in a panic move. If that's the case, they I applaud them for being willing to take on extra salary down the road to make a run at things now. But if this is because they're out of decent pitching options, then it concerns me, whether Gausman is ready or not, that the Orioles changed their developmental philosophy on their top prospect based on a bad week of results at the major league level.
Gausman should be able to hold his own either way because of his exceptional control and power arsenal, but we have to hope that by calling him up now instead of in a month or two, the Orioles aren't costing themselves a chance at getting an exceptional finished product for a stretch run.