He began his Orioles minor league career as a shortstop, but Mychal Givens is now a pitcher - and he could be on a fast track to Baltimore. There are some that feel the Double-A Bowie reliever could even make it to the Orioles roster before the 2015 season ends.
Throwing mid-90s fastballs that sometimes touch the higher 90s from a sidearm delivery, Givens has made rapid improvement since he moved to the mound for the 2013 season. His fastball shows late life with heavy sink at time, and he also has a solid slider and changeup.
While he was tough to hit when he moved up to Double-A Bowie from Single-A Frederick late last June, he really struggled with his control. But a year later, his control is much improved and he remains tough to hit. It’s proven to be a combination that has a lot of people in the organization excited to see what the future will hold for this 25-year-old right-hander.
Givens’ improvement has come about as a result of both his strong desire to get better and the Orioles’ desire to surround him with solid coaching. In the last nine months alone, he has worked with Triple-A Norfolk pitching coach Mike Griffin in the Arizona Fall League, Orioles pitching coaches Dave Wallace and Dom Chiti at the January mini-camp and in spring training, and now he is coached by former Oriole Alan Mills at Bowie.
“Just me with a desire to get better each day and all the help the Orioles have given me,” Givens said when asked why he has improved this year. “Help from the mini-camp during the offseason and big league camp, plus help Millsy has given me and all the pitching staff. They saw things in me and pushed me to get better and I’ve pushed myself. Just learning how to be a pitcher, to go out there every day, and hold up during the grind and attacking hitters.”
In 22 Bowie games this year, Givens is 2-1 with 12 saves in 14 chances and an ERA of 1.69. Over 37 1/3 innings, he has allowed 27 hits with 10 walks, 50 strikeouts and an average against of .201.
That is a strikeout rate of 12.1 per every nine innings, which ranks second in the Eastern League among all relievers, and a walk rate of 2.4 per nine innings. Last season, in 25 1/3 innings at Bowie, Givens walked 23 and fanned 28.
Givens credits a few slight mechanical adjustments that the big league coaches suggested he make back in January for helping him to repeat his delivery more consistently, leading to much better command and control.
“In mini-camp, Dave and Dom tinkered with how I start my delivery and stance,” he said. “Just start from a bit of a crouch when I first come set. It gets me to a better position with my arm. Lets my arm catch up and creates more consistent arm action. I kind of saw immediate results with it.”
Was Givens on board right away with the changes?
“I’m on board with whatever will make me get to the next level and help the Orioles win more ballgames,” he said.
At Bowie this year, Mills said Givens has been very coachable.
“He is always asking questions, always trying to get better and always trying to find a better way to do things,” Mills said. “He’s learning how to pitch to guys, reading bats and swings, and understanding (pitch) sequences. He’s been a pleasure to work with.”
Bowie manager Gary Kendall saw Givens last year and this year.
“Last season, there were flashes of what he is doing this year, but now we are seeing that on a more consistent basis,” Kendall said.
Givens ended the 2014 season ranked by Baseball America as the organization’s No. 27 prospect. He will clearly be ranked much higher after this season.
Givens was selected by the Orioles out of Plant High School in Tampa, Fla., in the second round of the 2009 draft. He was signed to an $800,000 bonus, and the Orioles envisioned him developing into an athletic shortstop that could eventually produce some power.
But when Givens’ offense didn’t come around as they had hoped, the Orioles moved him to the mound. He had pitched some in high school, and Givens could throw with good velocity from a very unique arm slot that is now basically a sidearm delivery.
His pitching career began in 2013 with Single-A Delmarva, and the Orioles limited his innings and basically scripted out his whole year - when and how much he would pitch. In his first two seasons, he pitched 101 innings and walked 58.
Now he has become a multi-innings reliever - he has worked two innings or more in 13 of his 22 outings - and looks at times like he could get big league hitters out right now. The Orioles have begun to have Kendall use him not just to close games, but also pitching in earlier innings as possible preparation for a future role in Baltimore.
Givens said he never looks back, wondering where he may be right now if he had begun his pro career as a pitcher and not a shortstop.
“No regrets,” he said. “It’s not like I just got thrown into the fire as a pitcher, I was a prospect coming out of high school as a pitcher. But didn’t really come along (as a position player) and I had the option to be a pitcher and have a good arm, so I don’t really look back at the past, just toward the future.”
Givens has heard the rumors that he could be on a fast track to Baltimore, but said he won’t concern himself with any of that now. He just wants to keep getting better.
I asked Kendall what he would say if Buck Showalter called to ask if he could help the Orioles right now.
“I hope we get that call,” he said. “Buck has asked about him numerous times, but never like that. But hopefully, whether it is to go up a level or go there, it would be a nice thing for Mychal. He’s worked really hard to get there.”
Photos by Bert Hindman