As Orioles fans have watched right-hander Michael Wacha pitch so well for the St. Louis Cardinals in the postseason, could they be seeing a preview of what Kevin Gausman possibly could be for their team in the future?
They can at least hope so.
After all, coming out of the 2012 draft, most scouts rated Gausman as the better of the two college pitchers.
The similarities between the two are many. Both are 22 and were 2012 first-round draft picks out of major colleges. Both feature a fastball-changeup combo with a mid-90s or better heater. Both got a brief taste of pro ball after the 2012 draft with Wacha pitching 21 innings and Gausman 15 in the minors.
Moving to 2013, Wacha got 85 innings of minor league seasoning and then pitched 64 2/3 innings in the regular season for St. Louis. Gausman threw 82 innings in the minors and 47 2/3 innings in the bigs for the Orioles.
But Wacha pitched better this year, going 5-3 with a 2.65 ERA in the minors and 4-1 with a 2.78 regular season ERA in the majors. Gausman went 3-6 with a 3.51 ERA in the minors and 3-5 with a 5.66 ERA in the big leagues.
Wacha has taken his game to a higher level in the postseason. He is 4-0 with an ERA of 1.00 in four playoff starts. Over 27 innings, he has allowed just 11 hits and three runs with eight walks and 28 strikeouts.
Here is what Baseball America's 2012 pre-draft scouting report said of Wacha:
"After the consensus top three college pitchers (Stanford's Mark Appel, Louisiana State's Kevin Gausman, San Francisco's Kyle Zimmer) go off the board, Wacha could be the next one selected. He owns the best changeup in the draft, a pitch that can be devastating when he sets it up with a 90-93 mph fastball that peaks at 96. His command also is as good as any pitcher in this crop, as is his competitiveness."
Despite that glowing scouting report, Wacha was drafted 19th overall in 2012 and was the eighth pitcher selected. Gausman was the fourth overall pick and was the first pitcher selected.
By the way, both Gausman and Wacha have advanced further than the other two college pitchers. In 2013, Zimmer, taken fifth overall by Kansas City, went 6-9 with a 4.32 ERA between high Single-A and Double-A. Appel, taken eighth overall by Pittsburgh, went 3-1 with an ERA of 3.79 this season in just 10 starts between short-season Single-A and low Single-A in the Houston organization. The Astros selected Appel in June after he went back into the draft pool after choosing not to sign with the Pirates.
The pitchers taken ahead of Wacha and the pick they were selected with in the 2012 draft:
4 - Kevin Gausman, Orioles
5 - Kyle Zimmer, Kansas City
7 - Max Fried, San Diego
8 - Mark Appel, Pittsburgh
9 - Andrew Heaney, Florida
14 - Nick Travieso, Cincinnati
16 - Lucas Giolito, Washington
Wacha was ranked eighth by Baseball America on its draft board, but he didn't get selected until 11 picks later and many teams that passed on him must now wish they had not.
It's a fair question to ask why Wacha pitched better this year than Gausman. Even Baseball America rated three college pitchers, including Gausman, ahead of him. Did Wacha just have the good fortune to get drafted by an organization which cranks out good young pitchers? Was he simply much better than some scouts rated him?
While fans have been disappointed by young O's pitchers and their lack of development before, it's too soon to pass judgement on Gausman and I see the talent that led the Orioles to take him with the fourth overall pick.
Because Wacha has better results so far, it doesn't mean Gausman won't also pitch like a top-of-the-rotation starter someday. In fact, I think he will.
Wacha is the latest to, through no fault of his own, create angst for O's fans. He is pitching great already, better than the O's hurler taken 15 spots ahead of him. But at this point, Wacha is just pitching better than about any player taken in that draft in any round.
Wacha is the outlier here. So far, he is by far the best of those four college pitchers mentioned. But the fact that Gausman hasn't matched him yet doesn't mean he can't or won't.
But watching St. Louis and its young guns right now is just another painful reminder for O's fans of what their organization hasn't done. O's fans have a right to be jealous. They want to see their team produce the next Wacha or Trevor Rosenthal.
AFL news: O's pitching prospects Eduardo Rodriguez and Tim Berry were selected to play for the West team in the Arizona Fall League's all-star game, known as the Fall Stars Game. It will be played Nov. 2 and televised live at 8 p.m. Eastern time on MLB Network.