Orioles sign Gausman (updated)

Twenty-one-year-old pitcher Kevin Gausman tugged at the brand-new white uniform he had on –with Orioles etched across the front – and needed only a few words to put Baltimore fans at ease.

“This is comfortable,” said Gausman, fresh off his introductory press conference after agreeing to a deal that netted him a $4.32 million signing bonus.

While the right-handed Gausman, a standout in two seasons at Louisiana State University, was already at ease, the hours leading up to the agreement was anything but.  In the wake of changes to the Draft’s bonus system, Gausman entered Friday the highest unsigned pick. His recent comments to a New Orleans paper about possibly return to LSU for another season also led to some speculation that he would spur the Orioles, although first-year scouting director Gary Rajsich remained hopeful in the hours leading up to the 5 p.m. ET deadline that they’d get their top guy.

“We were optimistic it could get done, but there were some stressful times,” said Rajsich, who sat next to Gausman along with executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette.  “You are never sure until it is done. We are thrilled to have him.”

“I love LSU and I always will,” said Gausman, who called Baton Rouge a second home and said it was a difficult decision to leave early. “But I’m just happy that we got this done and happy to start this road I’m going to be starting soon with a great, young organization that is up and coming. I think this is the perfect time for me to get started in this organization and hopefully make an impact eventually.”

The agreement was reached with about 10 seconds to spare, and Gausman –who last pitched in the College World Series – was in Baltimore on Friday morning to take his physical in advance of the two sides reaching a deal. While the slot bonus was $4.2 million, the Orioles agreed to a $4.32 million, avoiding a penalty by using the savings on signings under slot.

The Orioles signed 30 out of 40 picks, including nine of their top 10, with fifth-round selection Colin Poche the lone exception. Poche, a high school pitcher from Texas, will attend the University of Arkansas instead.

“I think we accomplished what we tried to do,” Rajsich said. “I’m pleased with the Draft overall, but getting Kevin, he was the keystone of the whole thing.”

A polished pitcher, Gausman went 12-2 with a 2.77 ERA in 18 games as a sophomore and was an integral part of LSU’s success.  A fairly highly-regarded prospect as a Colorado high schooler in 2010, Gausman was drafted in the sixth round by the Dodgers but elected to go to college and improve.  He said Friday that his biggest focus in the Minor Leagues will be on his two breaking pitches, a slider and curveball.

“I think how long I spend in certain places is going to be determined by those pitches,” he said, “and whether I am going to keep one and focus on one or keep both and try to develop both. I think that’s going to be a big difference-maker.”

The O’s had long been rumored to be in on Gausman, who fell to them in the June Draft after the three clubs before them all went with position players, and they chose him over Stanford arm Mark Appel — who was highly regarded as the Draft’s potential No. 1 pick. Appel, who was selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates, chose not to sign.

This is the second consecutive year the Orioles have taken a pitcher with their first-round pick as the organization selected high school righty Dylan Bundy fourth overall in 2011. Gausman is the third Orioles first-round pick out of LSU, joining Mike Fontenot (2001 — 19th overall) and Ben McDonald (1989 — 1st overall.

Asked when Gausman can expect to pitch for one of the team’s affiliates, Duquette said it was a conversation that will be had in the next few days as the organization irons out a plan.

“Kevin’s been pitching straight between some of the national competitions and college and the summer leagues for two years straight, so I think this little rest that he’s had, I know it’s welcomed by him,” Duquette said. “But I think it will serve him well as he gets going in pro ball.”

Gausman said he has been throwing for about three-and-a-half weeks and has kept in shape after college by running near his Colorado home. Now that he’s in Baltimore, the quirky Gausman –who eats four powdered donut holes in between each inning he pitches – is excited to immerse himself in his new home.

“I want to experience the things in Baltimore that I have heard so much about – Fells Point, you know all the different things, the harbor,” he said. “Being from Denver, that is like a whole other world to me. I like different experiences and I am excited to see Baltimore and soak in every moment of this.”

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