Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said Monday the team will use September to evaluate its young pitchers. Perhaps the most enticing of those evaluations began Tuesday.
The Orioles promoted right-hander Mike Baumann, their No. 9 prospect according to Baseball America, to the majors, where he’ll initially serve as a multi-inning relief option. The organization informed Baumann of the move Monday, and he arrived at Camden Yards on Tuesday, thrilled at the opportunity to make his major league debut. He didn’t have to wait long, earning his first major league win by pitching 3 ⅔ innings of relief without allowing an earned run in a 7-3 victory over the Kansas City Royals.
“I just wanna enjoy this moment,” Baumann said before the game. “I’ve been working my whole life for this. I’m just gonna live it up in a big-league stadium with great teammates here and just enjoy this moment.”
In his most recent start with Triple-A Norfolk, he struck out seven and allowed one run over six innings against the Chicago White Sox’s Triple-A affiliate, lowering his ERA with the Tides to 2.00 in six starts. Baumann, who turns 26 on Friday, trails only former first-round picks Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall among pitching prospects in Baltimore’s farm system. He reached Triple-A later than expected, with an elbow issue delaying the start of his season and causing him to spend most of the year with Double-A Bowie.
But speaking in the Orioles’ dugout before they faced the Royals, Baumann expressed some gratitude for the setback.
“I’ve definitely become a better pitcher because of it,” he said. “I wouldn’t change the experiences I had at the beginning of the season for anything. It made this moment a lot more sweeter.”
Although Hyde said Baumann’s role could change before the season ends, he’ll open his career in a bullpen that has possibly lost right-hander Jorge López for the season because of a right ankle sprain suffered Monday. In addition to adding Baumann and placing López on the 10-day injured list, the Orioles optioned Zack Burdi and transferred Hunter Harvey to the 60-day IL to select the contract of right-hander Manny Barreda, a 32-year-old reliever who will get his first opportunity in the majors after being drafted in 2007.
After two hitless rehab starts with Low-A Delmarva in May, Baumann spent the next two months with Double-A Bowie, where he dominated in 2019 with a no-hitter and a 2.31 ERA across 13 outings, 11 of them starts. His efforts that season between Double-A and High-A, featuring 142 strikeouts in 124 innings, allowed him to share the organization’s Jim Palmer Minor League Pitcher of the Year award with Rodriguez, who now ranks as the top pitching prospect in baseball.
A third-round pick in 2017 out of Jacksonville University, Baumann is listed at 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds and is appropriately nicknamed “Big Mike.” His fastball is big, too, and although the Orioles have deployed five rookie starting pitchers who entered this season among their top 20 prospects, none possess the explosive stuff Baumann does, with an upper-90s fastball and biting slider. In Tuesday’s debut, his fastball topped out at 95.3 mph, according to Statcast, while he averaged 90.3 mph with his slider.
He was a year behind Orioles outfielder Austin Hays at Jacksonville, and Hays was thrilled to reunite in Baltimore, even though his former teammate tried to keep his promotion a secret until they saw each other at Camden Yards. Texts from former coaches spoiled the surprise but not the excitement.
“Mike’s just a silent killer,” Hays said. “He goes about his business the right way, and even when he was an 18-year-old in college, he acted like he was a 30-year-old. He’s just a really mature, awesome guy, so I’m really happy for him.”
Recounting times they faced off in college, Hays noted Baumann’s “plus-plus fastball,” saying he was excited to see how his offspeed stuff has developed in recent years.
“It was never fun to try to hit that fastball,” Hays said. “Throws 95, but when you catch it, it feels like it’s about 120 because he’s so big and it’s just such a heavy fastball. It’s hard to hit it on the barrel.”
Baumann was added to the 40-man roster in the offseason to be protected from the Rule 5 draft, then the flexor mass strain that prematurely ended his stint at Baltimore’s alternate training site last summer carried into this spring. He might have already arrived in the majors if not for the injury, but an Orioles team whose pitching staff has struggled for much of the year will gladly welcome him for the season’s final stretch.
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“Someone we’re really high on,” Hyde said. “Seeing him this afternoon, he’s pumped to be here. We’re evaluating everybody, but it’s good for him to get his feet wet these next three weeks, and we’re excited to give him that opportunity.”