The 2012 season was one where the Orioles saw their pitching staff and pitching depth much improved. To make the future outlook even brighter, the Orioles have two of baseball's best young pitching prospects and one or both could be a mainstay in the rotation at some point next season.
Dylan Bundy went 9-3 with a 2.08 ERA in 23 starts this year at three minor league levels and then pitched 1 2/3 scoreless in two major league relief appearances in September. Kevin Gausman went 0-1 with a 3.60 ERA in five late-season starts between short-season Single-A Aberdeen and Single-A Frederick.
Matt Forman of Baseball America compiled the Orioles' top 10 prospects list for the publication that was released Monday. He rated Bundy the O's No. 1 prospect and Gausman No. 2. He said that duo holds its own with any other organization's top two prospects.
"Absolutely," Forman said. "The one-two punch of Bundy and Gausman would stack up against anybody's one-two and for that reason alone, the Orioles' overall system strength is in that 15-20 range because of the potential that those guys have.
"The Pittsburgh Pirates with Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole might be the only organization that can rival the Orioles in one-two pitching prospects. I would lean to Bundy and Gausman. That one-two is special and something the organization should be very proud of and excited about."
Bundy was rated as the No. 1 prospect in the sport by Baseball America in its 2012 midseason ratings and Forman said it was a season where the right-hander who will turn 20 on Nov. 15 lived up to the massive expectations.
"Outside and inside the organization, Dylan Bundy gets rave reviews. He has true top-of-the-rotation potential. He has true No. 1 starter upside and that is the consensus," Forman said.
"The biggest progress he made this year was the development of his changeup. In Bundy's playoff start (for Double-A Bowie), he threw 22 changeups, 18 for strikes and nine were swinging strikes. He got a ridiculous 40 percent whiff rate on that pitch. It doesn't have tremendous action, but he is incredibly deceptive with his arm action on the changeup and it became a true plus pitch and a weapon for him at the end of the year."
Bundy's other pitches were of top quality also.
"The curve was inconsistent throughout the year but it still shows plus potential if not a little more," Forman said. "His fastball velocity was there. In shorter stints early in the season, his fastball sat 95-98, sometimes touched more. Later in year he settled in 92-96 and kind of worked the ball to both sides of the plate more frequently as he was forced to be more of a pitcher.
"The development plan for Bundy was much talked about in the industry. It is hard for me to disagree with it. They got his feet wet at a level where he was able to dominate and quickly promoted him after that. The plan all along was to have usable innings in September if necessary. You certainly see the other side. Not questioning what the Nationals did with Stephen Strasburg, but he didn't have usable innings at the end of the year. The Orioles got out in front of that and Bundy met and exceeded all expectations. He made his big league debut at 19, the fourth guy to do that in the last decade."
Forman said some scouts compare Gausman to Max Scherzer, who went 16-7 with a 3.74 ERA for the Tigers this year, although Scherzer pitches more off his slider than Gausman does.
"Some teams had Gausman as high as No. 2 on their draft board," Forman added. "Gausman has tons of upside, I've seen him for four years. As a draft-eligible sophomore coming out of LSU, he's pretty young and will pitch next year at 22 years old.
"Gausman's changeup is an easy plus pitch and several scouts remarked how his changeup was one of the best they'd seen in the amateur ranks in a long time. Not too many young guys have an advanced changeup like Gausman does and are able to go to it in any count."
Now the Orioles are working with the right-hander to develop a third pitch and it appears that will be a slider. Should there be any concerns about Gausman's future potential with his fastball and change so far ahead of his breaking pitches at this point?
"The concern was certainly raised from outside the organization, it existed," Forman said. "But I don't believe it will hinder his development, because of his aptitude and intelligence. He can throw a breaking ball but sometimes the slider and curve blend together a little bit.
"But making a few minor adjustments should allow the slider to play at least average and indications from instructional league were that it was progressing and flashing more than average at times. It was showing swing-and-miss potential. With any prospect, there is development that needs to happen. But I don't think that will be a question."
Baseball America will release its 2013 preseason top 100 in February and both pitchers should rate high. Forman said Bundy could be No. 1 and he has him No. 2 on his personal top 100 right now behind Texas shortstop Jurickson Profar. He said he'd rate Gausman in the 20-25 range.
"For both of these guys, scouts rave about their makeup, competitiveness, intelligence and aptitude," Forman said. "Aptitude is the word that gets tossed around a lot as they are able to make adjustments on the fly and implement them. These are guys with polish and power, a rare combination, especially at their ages.
"Gausman probably has No. 2 starter upside. Bundy has No. 1 starter upside. They are going to pitch at the front of the Orioles rotation for a good while if everything works out."
Coming next week: I will have much from a lengthy and in-depth interview with Forman about the Orioles' top 10 prospects list. He provided some real solid information and insights and that is coming soon in this space.