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The Strike Zone

Orioles banking on Kevin Gausman, and with good reason

Kevin Gausman, OriolesKevin Gausman is debuting Thursday night. (AP)

In what has already been a great season for young starting pitching, the Orioles hope that Kevin Gausman can replicate the success of Cardinals rookie Shelby Miller and sophomores Matt Harvey, Patrick Corbin and Matt Moore. Gausman, who was the fourth overall pick in last year's amateur draft out of Louisiana State University, will make his major league debut Thursday night in Toronto.

Gausman was promoted directly from Double-A Bowie, where he went 2-4 with a 3.11 ERA in eight starts. Those basic stats don't come close to communicating the potential of the 22-year-old righty, who is younger than the other four pitchers mentioned above. To begin with, in his last five starts for Bowie, Gausman posted a 1.84 ERA (yet still went 0-3) and on the season he has struck out 49 men against just five walks in 46 1/3 innings. More significantly, there are his scouting reports, which paint the picture of a potential ace.

Gausman, who is a lanky 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, has a mid-90s fastball with movement (specifically in on righties) that can hit triple digits, a low-80s changeup (that's a 15 mile per hour difference relative to his fastball) with a sharp downward drop, and a mid-80s slider that also misses bats. As those five walks indicate, he has complete control of all three pitches and challenges hitters in the zone, working primarily in the lower half.  He has also received high marks for mixing his pitches well and for his overall mound demeanor.

It says a lot that the Orioles are calling him up straight from Double-A early enough in the season to trigger his super-two arbitration status. Yes, they are desperate for help in their starting rotation (Gausman will be the 11th starter they've used this year with the season less than two months old), but they are making the move because they think he can be a permanent solution and a difference-maker, not a temporary fill-in.

Baltimore gained some credibility in making aggressive promotions with their call-up of Manny Machado last year. Machado came up straight from Double-A barely more than a month past his 20th birthday and not only acquitted himself well, helping the Orioles make the playoffs for the first time since 1997, but has emerged as one of the better players in the American League. Still just 20 years old, Machado is hitting .322/.354/.508, leading the league in doubles with 18 and playing outstanding defense at third base despite having spent his minor league career at shortstop.

Of course, Machado, who was a top-10 prospect prior to last season, is a special case, but the Orioles and prospect watchers agree that Gausman is one, too. Baseball Prospectus listed him as the 13th-best prospect in baseball prior to this season, and there were some who believed he was ready to open the season in the majors this spring. Now that he's arrived, he could quickly rise to the top of the American League's pathetic rookie field and help the Orioles fight their way back to the postseason, but that's getting ahead of things just a bit. The O's know full well from their experiences with Zach Britton, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, and Jake Arrieta that pitching prospects don't come with guarantees. Still, Orioles fans, and baseball fans in general, have every reason to be excited about Gausman's debut.

CORCORAN: Looking at the top rookies in the AL and NL

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