Who better to ask about a college hurler than his pitching coach?
Lucky for us, the pitching coach for the Orioles’ first-round pick on Monday (fourth overall), Kevin Gausman, is a familiar name around here.
LSU’s second-year pitching coach is Alan Dunn, who spent three-plus seasons from 2007-2010 as the Orioles’ well-respected bullpen coach under former manager Dave Trembley. Dunn stayed around for two months under current manager Buck Showalter in 2010, and was named the organization’s minor league pitching coordinator that fall before he left to take the job at LSU.
So AD, as he is affectionately known throughout the baseball world, has a relationship with Showalter and a chunk of the Orioles’ brass in the front office. Gausman even made a point Monday to say that he assumes Dunn helped, in a small way, to make his selection by the Orioles a reality.
I’m sure the Orioles weren’t shy about hearing Dunn’s point of view on Gausman. And Dunn shared his thoughts with The Sun about 30 minutes after Gausman on Monday became the highest selected LSU Tiger to be taken in the MLB draft since the Orioles grabbed Ben McDonald first overall in 1989. Here’s what we’ve got from Dunn:
“First of all, he is a tremendous kid,” Dunn said of Gausman. “Obviously, he is very talented. I think he just needs the time to get acclimated to what the professional game is going to throw at him, get innings and continue to develop. The ceiling is very high. He is a gifted young man. He has been tremendous as our Friday night guy.”
The Friday night guy – for those who don’t know college baseball – is a program’s ace. Universities typically play three-game series from Friday through Sunday. And Gausman has been that guy under Dunn.
“One of the things about him is that he has been in this environment, pitching in the SEC every weekend, which feels like playoff baseball because those 30 games determine what the future will be,” Dunn said. “And he has been battling in it every single weekend, doing it here where every night is a sellout, 10,000 fans, it’s an event. And so he is conditioned for pressure and the things it takes to be put in that situation to succeed. It’s something that is going to help him in his future development.”
Here’s Dunn on Gausman’s arsenal: “His strength is his fastball, two- and four-seamers. He has a mid-90s to upper 90s four-seamer with really good life and a downhill angle. That’s what makes him so special, the angle he gets on the ball. … And he has a plus changeup that he throws for strikes, a put-away changeup.”
Gausman had a slider he used, but Dunn didn’t feel Gausman was particularly proficient with it. So last fall, they decided to put the slider “on the backburner” and Dunn worked with the right-hander to develop a 12-to-6 curveball. They worked on that through the fall and a few starts into this spring, before bringing the slider back into the mix. Dunn thinks Gausman can hone the pitches and eventually have an effective big league breaking ball.
“We’re trying to get a little more of a power breaking ball, a power curveball or a hybrid curveball-slider thing. That’s been the plan. These are pitches that are in progress and need to develop and he knows that. That’s an area of his game he’s going to continue to do here as we continue to go forward.”
There’s no question in Dunn’s mind that Gausman will be able to handle the big leagues and develop into a front-of-the-rotation starter. This isn’t a guy that will one day be converted into a reliever because of a lack of pitches or stamina, Dunn says.
“He definitely has starter stuff and a starter mentality. And he has that ability to go deep into games and maintain his stuff. That’s a really big strength. He gets stronger as a game progresses. I definitely see him as a starting pitcher and I think his makeup is that and his pitchability is that. And he throws strikes as well.”
Here’s Dunn on the 21-year-old Gausman as a young man: “He’s got a great personality. He is a team guy. He’s got a good balance, a good balance for enjoying the game and his teammates but when he crosses that line, he goes to work. That’s a great quality that bodes well for him to handle the rigors of Major League Baseball.”
Gausman has gotten some attention for his quirkiness, including his superstition of eating four mini-doughnuts in between innings during his starts. He says he has been doing it since middle school, and it’s just something he does.
Fine, but the fact he does it with Dunn around is enough to make anyone who knows Dunn erupt laughing. When he was with the Orioles, there probably was no one more no-nonsense or old-school than Dunn, a former top pitcher at LSU’s rival Alabama.
You could almost hear Dunn smirking through the phone line when I asked him what he thought of his star pitcher munching on desserts during a heated game.
“Listen, we always talk about players making adjustments, well, coaches have to make adjustments, too,” he said. “It’s just such a pleasure to work with him. … He has that charisma, and he doesn’t take himself too seriously. But when he needs to be serious, he is.”
LSU has made it to the super-regionals this weekend. If the Tigers win two of three, they are on their way to Omaha for the eight-team College World Series tournament.
“I guarantee he is excited (about being drafted) and he should be, but I know his focus (after Monday) is to make our goal that we set out to do as a team. And he is an all-team guy.”
Dunn admits there is part of him that was excited when Gausman landed with the Orioles. Coincidentally, if Dunn hadn’t gone to LSU, he might still have had a chance to work with Gausman in the Orioles’ system.
“I am happy he is going to the Orioles. Obviously, it’s a great opportunity. They’re trying to rebuild their system and they’ve taken some good arms the last couple of years … I don’t know what’s going into the system at this point, but it seems that changes are happening and they are definitely looking for quality pitching and I think they’ve added a good one to go with the ones they recently have. It’s a great opportunity for him.”