Pitching prospect check: Jason Gurka has been flying under the radar

He was not a high draft pick and he has made just one start in 89 career pro appearances. Jason Gurka hasn’t garnered much attention during his Orioles minor league career, but after back-to-back very solid seasons, he has slowly but surely worked his way up and is someone worth watching in 2013.

Gurka was the Orioles’ 15th-round pick out of Angelina (Texas) Junior College in 2008. The Houston native turned 25 on Jan. 10. In his O’s career, he is 8-8 with an ERA of 3.38 over 160 innings with 183 strikeouts, a .220 batting average against and a 1.14 WHIP.

In 2011, the lefty was 3-1 with a 2.87 ERA with 67 strikeouts over 53 1/3 between Single-A Delmarva and Single-A Frederick. Last summer, between Frederick and Double-A Bowie, Gurka was 3-5 with a 2.62 ERA. Over 65 1/3 innings, he gave up 49 hits with 24 walks, 65 strikeouts and a .210 average against.

“He’s got heavy, late sink,” O’s director of pitching development Rick Peterson said. “He made some nice adjustments with his delivery this year. He’s got a late sharp, slurvy type of breaking ball. He battled an illness some this year where he lost weight and it impacted him some toward the end of the year.

“He made some wonderful progress in 2012. It was kind of a step out year for him. He’s got good stuff and a nice changeup too. This is another telltale year for him. He really grew up last season and he really got excited about what he can do and he started to realize, ‘I’ve got a shot at this.’ “

Gurka began last season with Frederick, going 1-2 with a 2.18 ERA and moved to Bowie and Double-A for the first time in his career in mid-July. With the Baysox in 12 games, he was 2-3 with a 3.60 ERA and .250 average against.

“I’m really excited to see where he is coming into spring training. If he comes in where he left off last year, he can make another big jump this year,” Peterson said.

Interestingly, Gurka’s splits were quite different last summer. With Frederick he held lefty batters to a .267 average and right-handed batters hit just .173. At Bowie, lefty batters hit .150 and right-handed batters hit .286 off him.

“He had some times when he touched 92, 93 (mph) on occasion,” Peterson said. “Physically, he really needs to get himself into tip-top shape. He’s built very slightly (at 6-foot, 170 lbs.) and he’s not a really strong frame. We told him his offseason this year would be critical to connect with our conditioning program. He needs to show us this year that he’s a valuable commodity, because he is. He showed us that last year.”

Another precinct checks in: ESPN Boston asked an American League East talent evaluator to provide an opinion of the teams in the division, saving the Red Sox for later. According to this article, the evaluator isn’t ready to write off the Yankees, thinks the Red Sox will be improved, wants proof from the Blue Jays, still respects the Rays and has doubts about the Orioles.

“The division,” he said, “is pretty tightly packed.”

More so, he believes, than in previous years. None of the teams in the division are locks to win 95-plus games, which would end a streak dating back to 2000, when the Yankees won the division with 87 wins.

Here is a handy link: Click here to see Baseball America’s top 10 prospects list for every team in the majors.

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