How much can Kevin Gausman impact the 2014 rotation?

When I look ahead to the 2014 Orioles season, I can foresee the team’s rotation getting a potentially big boost by someone already on the staff.

Can Kevin Gausman be a real X factor for the 2014 Orioles?

Gausman made just five starts for the Orioles last season with 15 appearances out of the bullpen. While some fans look at the stat sheet and see a player that is not yet ready for consistent major league success, I think back to a pair of starts the 22-year-old right-hander made in June that showed his true potential. Gausman gave up three runs over 11 1/3 combined innings in starts against the two clubs that played for the American League championship in Boston and Detroit.

But Gausman didn’t dominate, even in the minors in 2013. He went 3-6 with a 3.51 ERA between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk while going 3-5 with a 5.66 ERA for the Orioles.

But he showed some swing and miss stuff and a fastball that touched 98-99 mph. He fanned 82 in 82 minor league innings and 49 in 47 2/3 innings in the majors. In September, with the Orioles he walked four and fanned 21 in 13 1/3 innings at a time when he felt his delivery and stuff were peaking.

If you just looked at a stat sheet, you saw one pitcher, but if you looked at the raw stuff, I think you could see a pitcher who showed top-of-the-rotation potential.

O’s fans have been disappointed with top pitching prospects before, but I see a kid that is ready to take a big step forward in 2014.

One aspect that could complicate his shot at a rotation spot for next season is his innings total. Gausman pitched 141 2/3 innings between LSU and the pros in 2013 and he pitched 129 2/3 innings last season. Having him work out of the bullpen left him short of what the club probably had projected for him back in spring training. Coming off those totals, we can’t expect Gausman to have 200 available innings next year.

Gausman has what it takes to be a top pitcher: an excellent fastball that has actually added a tick or two on the radar gun since he became a pro, along with two changeups that are plus pitches. His slider shows quality, but the command is not yet consistent. He surely learned a lot this year and gained experienced both in the rotation and the bullpen. He works hard and has a great desire to be good.

Gausman looks ready to take the next step, one where potential and production meet, and the stat sheet begins to look better and the results show up.

But is that time on opening day 2014, or will it take him a bit longer to realize his potential? After just 97 minor league innings, is Gausman ready to provide an upgrade for the Orioles’ rotation?

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