Top prospect Kevin Gausman could give Orioles a needed boost

BALTIMORE -- Even with Tuesday night's walkoff win, the Orioles could use a boost.

Perhaps Kevin Gausman can provide it.

Yes, we've been excited about Orioles pitching prospects before, from Chris Tillman and Brian Matusz to Zach Britton and Jake Arrieta. Yes, we've been disappointed before (and so have the Orioles).

But the Orioles have been churning their way through so-so starting pitchers for long enough. As I wrote Monday, they're not going to contend again unless their rotation improves significantly.

Gausman, if he's ready, gives them the best chance to see that improvement.

Why not find out now?

It's not as if the Orioles have other exciting options. They've used a major-league high 10 different starting pitchers already this year. Jair Jurrjens, whose spot Gausman will take when he makes his big-league debut Thursday night in Toronto, gave up four runs in five innings last Saturday against the Rays.

The Orioles sent Jurrjens back to Triple-A on Tuesday, making room on the roster for Miguel Gonzalez, who came off the disabled list to start Tuesday night against the Yankees. They could have simply put Arrieta or Rule 5 draft pick T.J. McFarland into Jurrjens spot, but neither would be as exciting an option as Gausman is.

Gausman, the Orioles' first-round draft pick last June, has made just 13 professional starts. But his numbers are exciting (62 strikeouts and just six walks in 61 1/3 innings), and this spring he and fellow top prospect Dylan Bundy were the talk of the Orioles camp.

In fact, the Gausman-Bundy argument became a popular topic among scouts, with many Bundy fans shocked to hear that other scouts said they already liked Gausman better.

Bundy has yet to pitch this season, because of a forearm issue that the Orioles still don't think is serious (he's expected to start throwing in a couple of weeks). Meanwhile, Gausman has been the Orioles prospect everyone is watching.

Some people thought the Orioles would wait another month to promote him, hoping to keep him from Super 2 arbitration status in a couple of years. The Cardinals are thought to be doing exactly that with Michael Wacha, their top pitching prospect.

But the Orioles need help now. They had lost six straight games before Nate McLouth's 10th-inning walkoff home run Tuesday against the Yankees. If they waited until mid-June to look at Gausman, perhaps they'd be so far out of the race that they couldn't recover.

Besides, the Orioles know how the arrival of an exciting young kid can give a team a boost. They saw it last year with Manny Machado.

They also know that even exciting pitching prospects don't always pan out right away. Tillman finally seems to be establishing himself in the Orioles rotation. Matusz went to the bullpen, and Arrieta and Britton remain puzzles that haven't been solved.

There's always the chance the same will happen with Gausman. But there's also a chance that he arrives and gives this team the boost it needs.

It's time to find out.

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