SARASOTA, FLA. — An arm injury shut down what the Orioles believed was one of the most promising stints at the team’s alternate training site in Bowie last season. But now that pitching prospect Mike Baumann says his flexor mass strain in his throwing elbow is healed, the team’s top-rated pitching prospect in spring training camp is showing off his electric arsenal at its highest level yet.
“I just want to prove that I belong here, and I can be here, and go out and compete,” Baumann said Tuesday. “But I also want to focus on what I need to work on to get ready for the season.”
Based on what he’s done so far, the 2017 third-round draft pick by the Orioles has consistently proved he has a big league future.
He has a career 2.82 ERA and shared the Orioles’ Jim Palmer Minor League Pitcher of the Year honors with Grayson Rodriguez in 2019, a season he started at High-A Frederick and finished at Double-A Bowie. With the Baysox, he recorded a 2.31 ERA with a pair of shutouts, including a no-hitter.
However, because he wasn’t going to be added to the major league roster until after the 2020 season, Baumann wasn’t brought to major league camp last year.
He was still one of the most impressive arms at the team’s alternate site in 2020, with some of his development points only meant to enhance that. The team tried to make his delivery more efficient to combat his tendency of getting off-kilter and losing his command midgame, giving him keys to dial himself back in and get back toward finishing through the strike zone.
While his four-seam fastball lives in the mid-90s and explodes on hitters, Baumann’s best secondary pitch was a hard slider that projects as a plus pitch. The pitching coaches at Bowie helped him work on a curveball with a similar look to hitters as his fastball that has consistent shape and vertical action with depth.
“That was kind of the emphasis at Bowie, just kind of honing in on those secondary pitches and working on consistency and just attacking through the zone with all of my pitches,” Baumann said.
All those pieces mean that as far as a starting pitcher goes, Baumann’s possible major league debut this summer could bring some of the best raw stuff that the Orioles have seen come through their system in years.
There are plenty of checkpoints for Baumann to hit. Elbow issues such as his, especially when rehabilitated, can be fickle and return or worsen at a moment’s notice. He said he was “slowly progressing” building up to spring training after being cleared to throw again in December, feels good so far this spring and is “confident moving forward.”
Despite his premium pitches, Baumann’s half-season at Double-A means the Orioles will likely require him to pitch most of this season at Triple-A Norfolk before he makes his major league debut. Right-hander Dean Kremer only spent a month in Triple-A before he was called up in 2020, but pitched over a year in Double-A before that.
It won’t just be about making an impression this spring, though. Baumann already has a good relationship with pitching coach Chris Holt and benefited from the former Houston Astros coach coming on as minor league pitching coordinator in 2019. He’ll also presumably be back with Triple-A pitching coach Kennie Steenstra this year with the minor league season set to begin in April, allowing more continuity as he climbs to the big leagues.
Baumann, though, is trying to focus on the present rather than look at whatever his future might hold.
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“I like to have that attitude because I don’t like to get too far ahead of myself,” Baumann said. “I think it gets me in the right mindset of just being in the moment. I’ve got to take care of what I’ve got to take care of on a daily basis, whether that’s being in a game or recovering or something I have to work on in between starts.
“I think that just helps me out mentally and gets me prepared physically for when I have to go out there and compete and perform and try and go out there and win for my guys.”