When the Orioles drafted Mychal Givens in the second round of the 2009 draft out of a Tampa, Fla., high school, they envisioned developing an athletic shortstop with a strong arm who would develop some pop in his bat.
But when Givens struggled to hit much over his first three pro seasons, the Orioles converted him to the mound in 2013. Givens had pitched some in high school and now he's back on the mound.
Year one as a full-time pitcher went well. Despite modest stats, he had a strong second half and showed the ability to touch the mid-90s with heavy sink. Now the O's foresee a potential late-inning reliever with a power arm.
The 23-year-old Givens went 2-3 with a 4.22 ERA and three saves for Single-A Delmarva in 2013. Over 42 2/3 innings, he walked 19 with 36 strikeouts, allowing just one homer, and had a .219 batting average against.
"I might have liked to try hitting one more time, but whatever decision they think is best for me to get me to the next level I'm behind 100 percent. I think my first year pitching as a pro was a success," Givens said.
Early in the year, he had some tenderness in getting used to pitching again and was shut down for a few weeks.
"It was no injury or anything, just my muscles were not reacting to pitching yet," he said. "It had been a few years since pitching some in high school. After I took off a few weeks, I came back even stronger and was throwing harder at the end of the year.
"I am working hard this offseason and each day I feel I have more in me to even be better. I worked with Rick Peterson (O's director of pitching development) on a few things at instructs (instructional league) and I continue to work on that."
Givens pitches from a low three-quarters arm slot that is almost sidearm and gets a lot of heavy sink with his fastball.
"I don't know, it just comes natural to me, maybe the way the ball comes out of my hand," he said of throwing a sinker.
In the second half, he pitched to an ERA of 3.38. Over 29 1/3 innings, he walked nine and fanned 28 as his changeup and slider improved and his velocity increased. He pitched between 90 and 94 mph, touching 95 to 97 mph, just like he had in high school.
What does he want to work on now?
"Just having the mental toughness of a late-inning guy," Givens said. "Being a shortstop, I was in every single play and now it's more relaxed in the bullpen. Then you have to turn on the switch and be ready to go. Still have to work on some fastball command and also with my slider."
Givens seemed to click with Peterson and they continued to work on his stuff during instructional league, when reports were very positive on Givens. Now he'll likely move to the bullpen at Single-A Frederick and the chance to even get to Double-A Bowie seems possible for his 2014 season.
"I want to do what would keep me in the big leagues as long as possible. If I became a starter or a bullpen guy, whatever helps the team out," he said.
Remembering Blair: This may surprise the younger fans, but there was a time when few O's games were televised and, in those days, we listened often on the radio. It seemed every night we heard the great Chuck Thompson say, "Blair is on his horse and he makes a great running catch."
Few outfielders were ever as good with the glove as Paul Blair, who died last night. We lost another great Oriole. Blair was known for the ability to play very shallow and cut off singles into center while at the same time having a great ability to go back on the ball and catch deep drives. Most outfielders didn't go back on the ball well and had to play deep. Not Blair. It was one of many reasons he won eight Gold Gloves.
You can't think of Blair without thinking of his great defense. He played with some of the greatest defenders in club history, but he sure held his own and then some. He got some big hits too and I remember that smooth, slow practice swing he used to take.
I want to extend my deepest condolences to Paul's family and friends.