When Orioles fans watched Michael Wacha of the St. Louis Cardinals pitch so well - dominating at times - in the playoffs last fall, it might have led some to wonder if Kevin Gausman could do that for their team one day.
There are many reasons to compare the two young hard-throwing, right-handed pitchers.
They are similar in age, with Wacha 22 and Gausman turning 23 last month. Both were 2012 first-round draft picks out of major colleges. Both feature a fastball-changeup combo with a mid-90s or better fastball. 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 last 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 pitched very well in the playoffs, going 4-1 with a 2.64 ERA in five starts, with 33 strikeouts over 30 2/3 innings. Wacha was 4-0 with an ERA of 1.00 in his first four playoff starts.
Wacha looks to be ahead of Gausman at this early stage in their careers. In that 2012 draft, Gausman was the fourth overall pick and first pitcher taken and Wacha was taken 19th overall and was the eighth pitcher selected.
When I talked recently with Jim Callis of MLB.com and MLBPipeline.com, he agreed that a Wacha-Gausman comparison was a valid one and said the O's right-hander can hold his own with Cardinals' top young pitching talent.
"The college pitchers that are polished seem to go very high (in the draft), but for whatever reason, he (Wacha) lasted to the middle of the first round," Callis said. "You could say his breaking ball wasn't very good, but he had a plus fastball, very good changeup, threw a lot of strikes and had a track record of winning. You could say the same about Gausman, yet he went fourth in the draft.
"The funny thing is now, because of major league success, the impression is that Wacha is a cut above Gausman. But there are a lot of similarities. The biggest difference with those guys coming out of college is Gausman threw harder than Wacha and I think he showed more flashes of a good breaking ball. That is still true. In the postseason Wacha was living off of commanding a very good fastball with a very good changeup."
Callis is aware that Wacha is clearly the pitcher with the better results so far, but he also feels Gausman may be doing the same one day soon for the Orioles.
"I think, even though Wacha had more initial success and was a playoff hero, that Gausman's breaking ball still probably shows more potential upside than Wacha," Callis said. "I think that is a great comparison because they do have very similar repertoires and backgrounds coming out of college."
I first compared Gausman and Wacha in this blog in October and today took a second look with Callis' help.