ESPN’s Keith Law on Gausman’s slider, Bundy’s rehab and more O’s prospects

This week, ESPN’s Keith Law ranked the Orioles farm system No. 10 in baseball and had five Orioles rated among his listing of the best 100 prospects in the sport.

In an interview yesterday, he talked at length about some O’s prospects and here are more quotes from that interview. First, here is his listing of the current top 10 O’s prospects and where he put five of them on his top 100 list (subscriber-only content).

1) Kevin Gausman (No. 23 on top 100)
2) Dylan Bundy (No. 31)
3) Hunter Harvey (No. 38)
4) Eduardo Rodriguez (No. 43)
5) Jonathan Schoop (No. 86)
6) Mike Wright
7) Chance Sisco
8) Josh Hart
9) Adrian Marin
10) Tim Berry

I asked Law if he felt Gausman was ready to pitch in the majors.

“For me, the whole thing with him is his slider,” Law said. “He didn’t throw it a ton at LSU and it wasn’t consistent for him there and it has to be in the big leagues for him to reach his ceiling. I would hate to see them rush him. When he came up in May, he stopped using the slider because he needed to get outs, so he defaulted to being a fastball-changeup guy.

“In September, when he was used in relief, he was throwing harder and I went back and watched most of those outings. His slider was way better than earlier in the year. That is what you want to see.

“He’s a starter long-term for me, but he has to get to the point where he is confident enough in the slider to throw it consistently before he can be a No. 1 or No. 2 starter. Maybe if he’s in the minors early in the season, he’s throwing the slider 20 times a game. The worst thing would be rushing him to the big leagues where he puts the slider away because it’s his third-best pitch at this point.”

Last September, Gausman went 2-2 with a 4.73 ERA over 10 games. In 13 1/3 innings, he walked four and fanned 21. Law talked about the improvement in the slider then.

“It was filthy,” Law said. “It looked like he could change the shape of it, too. Looked like he could alter the grip slightly and sometimes it was almost straight down like a power curveball and sometimes he got more tilt, like a true slider, and they were all hard, coming in the mid-80s.

“He’s got an unbelievable arm to maybe make that a swing-and-miss pitch. That is probably more than he needs. He’s already got the big fastball and changeup. With a just above average slider he is going to be - if he’s not an ace - probably top 20 in the league.”

As for Bundy, who is coming back from Tommy John surgery, Law feels confident he’ll regain the form he showed before his surgery.

“The success rate of Tommy John surgery is around 85 percent with guys that come back with everything they had before the injury,” Law said. “Guys don’t come back better - that is an urban legend - but they can come back at 100 percent of where they were before. The odds are very good.

“The Orioles’ people say the rehab is going great and he hasn’t had a setback. and some guys do in the first six months or so. When you think about the other 15 percent, my theory is some portion of those guys are pitchers that don’t follow the rehab regimen. It’s hard work and not fun. Bundy, they probably have to hold him back, which makes you more confident he is in that 85 percent. His makeup and conditioning is off the charts and he’s the dream patient.”

Law’s No. 38 ranking of Harvey was the highest seen yet for the 19-year-old right-hander drafted in the first round last June. He feels the club made some tweaks with his pitching mechanics that are already paying off.

“They are just getting him more on line to the plate, landing more consistently with his stride, getting downhill plane on the fastball,” Law said.

“In high school, he could blow guys away with a fastball. Now he’ll need to command everything, which meant getting him more on line to the plate.

“Plus he has to develop a changeup and I asked the Orioles’ people and they said essentially they didn’t do anything major, just little stuff. With a guy in his first year in the system, that is typically what you want. You don’t want a major overhaul your first summer. It sounds like the Orioles played it smart, just little things they did.”

Some scouts, when talking about Rodriguez, the 20-year-old left-hander, feel he has several solid pitches, but not one top pitch right now. Is that a concern?

“He’s got a really good changeup,” Law said. “There is an institutional bias when it comes to left-handers and I can fall into this, too, where we want the left-handers to have good breaking balls and a distrust of some that don’t have that.

“I do think he has some work to do on the breaking ball - it’s clearly his third-best pitch right now - but I think the changeup will be a swing-and-miss pitch for him. The velocity is fine. For him, it’s breaking ball development and command.

“They moved him aggressively. I saw his Double-A debut and he didn’t look ready that night. He looked like a kid that night. To his credit, talked to someone that saw him a few weeks later and he had calmed down, gotten better, was throwing more strikes and he made the mental adjustment. Age-wise, he could be at Double-A all year and no one could say that is taking it too slow with him. I think that changeup ends up as the out-pitch you look for with him.”

A question worth asking any analyst of prospects is whether the current crop of O’s pitchers is going to be better than the group from a few years back that included Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz and Zach Britton.

“I like these guys better,” Law said. “The previous group had higher risk factors. Either delivery issues, command issues. Bundy was close to the perfect high school pitching prospect. It sounds like he will be back and fine and the Orioles feel he’ll be back at 100 percent next year.

“I think this group is more advanced for their ages, their experience level than the previous group. That last group, the hype got a little ahead of the actual packages.”

The fifth player on his top 100 from the Orioles was Schoop, a player who remains highly regarded even if his stats at Double-A or Triple-A were far from dominant.

“Schoop had two mitigating factors,” Law said. “One, he had the stress fracture and you are not going to hit for power with a lower back injury like that, so I was willing to discount the mediocre performance on that.

“Plus, he’s been really young and they’ve pushed him very aggressively. He’s probably been a level above where he should be the last few seasons, given his age relative to his level. At some point, he is going to have to put up numbers. I’d like to see him have a full healthy season, preferably one where he plays a single position the entire year and let’s see what he can do.

“I like his swing and his body. He’s going to hit for power and he’s got a good idea what he is doing at the plate. Repeating a level at this point is not the worst thing for him. Let him put up some numbers. Let him have some performance under his belt first before the next promotion.”

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