Several times this offseason, including at FanFest this month, Orioles manager Buck Showalter has predicted that right-hander Kevin Gausman is going to have a big 2016.
It's interesting because Showalter doesn't usually put extra pressure on young players. And Gausman, who turns 25 in January, is unquestionably one of the organization's most promising young pitchers.
So why would a careful, veteran manager say such things about a guy who has never been fully unleashed on the majors?
I'm sure Showalter wants to both motivate Gausman and show his support for the young pitcher. But, frankly, I think everyone expects 2016 to be an exceptionally important season for Gausman.
He thinks so.
"It's huge," Gausman said of the upcoming season. "Obviously, I want to bounce back. I feel like last season I learned a lot."
Gausman was caught in a numbers game to begin 2015. After posting a 7-7 record and 3.57 ERA in 20 starts for a division-winning team in 2014, Gausman found himself in the bullpen to begin last year. The Orioles had five veteran starters – including Bud Norris, who struggled badly before being released – and so Gausman initially was placed in a relief role.
He pitched in eight games before going on the disabled list with right shoulder tendinitis. He was on the shelf for more than a month. Activated in June, Gausman bounced back to the minors and eventually returned for good in late July. His final game of the year was arguably his best: eight innings, one run and 10 strikeouts against the Toronto Blue Jays.
"When the season ended I kind of felt like I was just getting started," he said. "Being on the DL kind of hurt me a little bit, just in my development."
Although the Orioles won't officially say it, Gausman is staying in the rotation in 2016. There should be no rides back and forth to Norfolk, no in and out of the bullpen.
This should be Gausman's chance to fully show the promise that he has demonstrated at times since being drafted with the fourth overall pick in 2012.
"That's what you work to get to. I felt like it was going to be kind of that way last season and unfortunately I went on the DL and that pushed everything back innings-wise," said Gausman, who was 4-7 with a 4.25 ERA in 25 games (17 starts) for the 2015 Orioles. "I'm just ready to take the ball every fifth day consistently and be one of those guys that can throw 180 to 200 innings every year."