While I like to think we do a good job of covering the depths of the Minor Leagues at Fake Teams, the majority of our prospect articles focus on players that are somewhat known commodities with the potential for long careers ahead of them. Well today, we're going to look at a different type of player - 28-year-old Orioles' pitcher Eddie Gamboa.
Weight: 195 lbs
On 40-Man Roster: No
DOB: 12/21/1984 (Age-28 season)
It's safe to say Gamboa's career arc doesn't exactly resemble that of the typical prospect. The righty was drafted in the 21st round by Baltimore in 2008 and signed for $1,000 as a fifth year senior out of UC Davis. At the time it was thought he could maybe become a middle reliever because of his athleticism and competitveness, but even that was a long shot. Undeterred by doubters, Gamboa really started to show some promise in 2009, finishing the year in Double-A and recording a 1.08 ERA, making all of his appearances out of the pen. Over the next three seasons Gamboa would bounce between the rotation and the pen, posting ERA's in the 3.00's each year. Still with fringy stuff, he never ranked higher than 25th in the O's system, and he has been more of an afterthought than a real part of any long-term plans.
Now, though, some scouts and executives think Gamboa has a shot to make an impact for Baltimore down the stretch. How did that happen? Well, inspired by reigning NL Cy Young Award Winner R.A. Dickey, Gamboa has begun throwing a knuckleball this season. Early in the year he was mixing it in somewhere around half the time, but the percentage of pitches that knuckle has gone up since April. Throwing the knuckler on around 75% of his pitches, Gamboa fired a 7-inning no-hitter against Harrisburg, just a week after taking a no-hitter into the eighth inning against Altoona. Those two starts improved his ERA to 3.64 and he struck out 79 while walking just 21 in 99.0 innings in Bowie. That performance earned him a recent promotion to Triple-A Norfolk, where he is on the verge of the big leagues for the first time in his career.
The Scouting Report
This is quite difficult, because reports from any previous seasons are now somewhat useless. Grading a knuckleball is something that scouts aren't accustomed to doing, and it is quite difficult because there isn't a long history of pitcher's that have thrown the pitch. Really, with that pitch the grade comes from the results - if hitters are hitting it then it's not a good pitch, and if they aren't then it may just be an effective offering. The thing I really like about Gamboa though, is that he throws two knucklers, one in the mid 70's that is like the pitch that Dickey throws, and a slower low to mid-60's version that more closely resembles what Tim Wakefield threw. Along with the knuckleball, Gamboa still mixes in a fastball and a slider. The FB is below average, sitting in the upper 80's with some sink, and the SL is really just a show me pitch, but both play up a grade when they're being used off of the knuckle. The rest is sort of irrelevant. He is a good athlete and he repeats his delivery, but with his arsenal now he should hold up and he doesn't have to worry about plane and command quite as much.
What's Keeping Him From Contributing Now?
His first two Triple-A starts didn't go quite so well, giving up 8 earned runs across 10 frames, and he's not yet on the 40-man roster. But if he can get things going in Norfolk, Baltimore has a big need for starting pitching and I'm sure they could find room to promote Gamboa.
When Could He Arrive?
Multiple sources have said that they expect Gamboa to debut sometime in the season's second half. If he can adjust and find success in the International League, I would say he'd be the next O's farmhand to get the call.
What Can He Do Once He Arrives?
This is the fun part with Gamboa - I have no idea what he can be and I'm not sure anyone really does. Even though we have guesses, no one knows if his knuckleball can be consistently good enough to get big league hitters out. Right now, I think that opinion is rather split. Some think he can be a productive mid-rotation starter, while some think he's just another novelty who will never succeed in the big leagues. For now I'll say I am cautiously optimistic about his future, and really I think right when he gets to the big leagues he may be good just because hitters have not seen him before. For that reason, he's a name to look at in AL-Only leagues starting now. More than anything though, Gamboa is a fun story and someone I know I will be following and rooting for this season and in the future.
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For more on the Orioles and all of their prospects, be sure to check out Camden Chat.
You can follow him on twitter @Andrew_Ball.
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