Is he ready yet?
That's the question Orioles fans are asking themselves and the team about Garrett Olson.
With injuries depleting the starting rotation at the major league level, the Orioles have filled in the gaps with pitchers already in Baltimore; namely Jeremy Guthrie and Brian Burres. Both pitchers were waiver claims from other organizations; Burres came to the Birds last year when the San Francisco Giants got caught in a numbers game and left him off of their 40-man roster over the winter. The Orioles pounced and got themselves a left-handed pitcher who began the year in the Orioles bullpen, only to be sent back almost immediately, and then recalled yet again. Burres throws his fastball in the high 80's and is known primarily for his ability to put the ball where he wants it. I watched him pitch last year when Ottawa came through Richmond and, I have to say, he was impressive.
Claiming Guthrie from the Indians this off season was like walking down the street and finding a $1000 bill on the sidewalk. The former #1 pick has been a more than adequate replacement for Jaret Wright. His success as a starter in Baltimore has taken the pressure off of the front office, for the time being, to chase down another starting pitcher elsewhere.
That brings us to the Orioles new top pitching prospect, Garrett Olson. Now that Hayden Penn has undergone surgery on his pitching elbow, Olson has moved to the top of the pack for consideration for a rotation spot.
So, is he ready for the majors? I have had the opportunity to watch him pitch two games this season, as well as seeing him in the Orioles minor league camp earlier this spring. When he faced Louisville in the Tides' home opener, he was nothing short of spectacular. After giving up a first inning home run to Aaron Herr, he settled down and pitched well enough to win. He came back to fan Herr the next time he faced him and Herr had to look back at the scoreboard to see what Olson got him on. I had him throwing his fastball in the upper 80's and low 90‘s that night. All told, he fanned seven Bats in six innings of work. Obviously, he looked very good that night. I saw him again a few weeks later when the Tides faced Richmond, and again, Olson pitched very well.
Although I am not a trained scout, I can say in all honesty that I do enjoy watching Garrett Olson pitch. Professional talent evaluators have stated that he has "pitchability" and the ability to miss bats, even though his fastball is average in terms of velocity. When I spoke with him this spring, he told me that all of this pitches were working and the Orioles had advised him to go to the minors to get more experience. During my interview with him, much like others have noted repeatedly, I was struck by his maturity and intelligence. This is no surprise from a guy who is just short of a degree in engineering from Cal Poly.
If you compare his minor league statistics with Adam Loewen's, the man he would be replacing, you can see that he is holding his own:
Loewen had notorious control problems in 2004 and 2005, which caused the biggest difference in statistical performance. In addition, there was talk about Loewen's maturity and work ethic when he was a young professional. Both throw their fastballs in the upper-80's and low 90's, though Loewen is more consistently in the 90's. Both have very good curveballs and Olson uses his as his out pitch. And both feature changeups that lag behind the rest of their repertoire.
This is Olson's third professional season. Since he was drafted out of college at age 21, he does not have to be added to the 40-man roster anytime soon; in fact, he could spend another season in the minors gaining experience until he is needed. With Guthrie and Burres doing well and Olson's comparative shortage of minor league innings pitched, why not let him finish this season in AAA? Another advantage is it will keep his free agency clock from starting prematurely. Perhaps he is major league ready at this point in his career, but a better question might be, is there a compelling reason to rush him this year?
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