Always on the lookout for quality pitching, the Orioles added to their stable of young arms Monday, selecting quirky and effective Louisiana State University right-hander Kevin Gausman with the fourth overall pick in the first round of baseball’s amateur draft.
Gausman, 21, was the first pitcher taken in an unpredictable draft — allowing the Orioles to land the No. 1 hurler on their board after position players were selected in the top three.
“Kevin Gausman is one of the premier power pitchers in all of college baseball. He has pitched at a high level in front of a lot of people every Friday night for the past two years, and very successfully,” said Orioles’ first-year director of scouting Gary Rajsich. “He has a power arm. He has a power arsenal that he commands, and we are very excited to have him as part of the Orioles organization.”
Coming out of a Colorado high school in 2010, Gausman was a sixth-round pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers, but he chose college instead. He throws a four-seam fastball in the mid-90s that can reach 98 mph. He also has a low-90s two-seam fastball and a highly regarded changeup that sits in the mid-80s.
If there’s any knock on Gausman’s ability, it’s that his slider and curveball are in the developmental stages and are behind his other pitches.
“We’ve seen Kevin’s breaking ball good, although they have been inconsistent. Some of our guys have seen them above average,” Rajsich said. “So I think it is in there, I think they are both in there and they are both effective and it is a matter of making them both a little more consistent.”
Gausman, who is 11-1 with a 2.72 ERA and 128 strikeouts in 115 2/3 innings (16 starts) for LSU so far this season, was tabbed as the third best amateur right-hander in Baseball America’s 2012 draft guide.
But he was selected one spot before the University of San Francisco’s Kyle Zimmer and four ahead of Stanford’s Mark Appel, who was widely considered the No. 1 pick heading into Monday night.
Rajsich said there was some consideration of Appel, but the Orioles liked Gausman more.
“There were appealing things about both pitchers, although we feel like we got the one we really wanted in the end,” Rajsich said.
Gausman said he didn’t know what to think with the Orioles about to select after Appel was passed over by the Houston Astros, Minnesota Twins and Seattle Mariners.
“I really didn’t know what was going to happen, especially with Appel, obviously,” Gausman said. “I don’t think anyone had their draft boards happening like it did. So that was something that was a little weird for me to sit back and watch that. … I was kind of shocked that I was taken by Baltimore. Obviously, I am very honored.”
LSU’s baseball team was off Monday, but all the players gathered to see where Gausman would go, and he became the highest Tiger to be drafted since the Orioles took pitcher Ben McDonald No. 1 overall in 1989.
“The whole team today was watching the draft with him — an off-day — sitting there, waiting to see how it goes,” said LSU’s pitching coach, Alan Dunn, the Orioles’ former bullpen coach under Dave Trembley. “And they were so excited for him. That says a lot about a person.”
Dunn, who has worked closely with Gausman since he took over the job two seasons ago, and McDonald were both obvious connections between Gausman and the Orioles.
“I have a great relationship with [Dunn],” Gausman said. “I think his work ethic speaks for itself. Anyone that knows him will tell you that. And I think he had something to do with this.”
As for his relationship with McDonald, the organization’s only No. 1 pick, Gausman said: “I’ve met Ben before and he obviously has great things to say about Baltimore. All I keep hearing about is the crabs, so I’m excited to get to try crabs.”
During his introductory teleconference, Gausman flashed humor and addressed his peculiarities, including his penchant for eating mini-doughnuts in between innings during starts.
“I’ve always been a little weird, really. I like sci-fi movies and I eat four doughnuts in between innings, so that’s a little weird,” Gausman said. “It’s something that started back I think in middle school. So I’ve been doing that for a while now. And I think the way I live my life I like to be a little different than other people.”
He’s also considered “an outstanding citizen, a good teammate and a fierce competitor,” Rajsich said. And he is not far from the big leagues, the scouting director said.
Rajsich said he believes Gausman is motivated to sign by the July 13 deadline and then the organization will decide whether to get him into a competitive spot in the minors or shut him down after a long collegiate season (the Tigers play in the super-regionals this weekend). Once signed, Rajsich said he doesn’t expect Gausman to dawdle in the minors.
“Kevin has a chance to move through our system quickly. Everything we have heard is he is ready to go,” Rajsich said. “He is ready to get out there and begin his pro career. And what we have for him is an opportunity to move quickly through our system and pitch in Baltimore very soon.”
Meet Kevin Gausman
Position: Right-handed pitcher
Height, weight: 6-feet-4, 185 pounds
Bats, Throws: L,R
Hometown: Centennial, Colo.
School, class: Louisiana State University, sophomore
Stats: 11-1 this season with a 2.72 ERA, 128 strikeouts and 27 in 16 starts (115 2/3 innings)Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times