Eddie Gamboa might be the most interesting man in the Orioles farm system. After five seasons in the minor leagues, the 29 year old righty converted into a knuckleball pitcher at the start of the 2013 season and the results have been remarkable.
In 16 starts with Double-A Bowie, Gamboa pitched to a 3.46 ERA, 1.141 WHIP, 7.2 K/9 and 2.55 K/BB. Now, after allowing just one hit over his last 14 1/3 scoreless innings pitched, including a seven inning no hitter, Gamboa is headed to Triple-A Norfolk.
On the latest edition of Baseball Prospectus’ Fringe Average podcast, Mike Ferrin and Jason Parks discussed Gamboa and the difficulty of scouting knuckleball pitchers. “Can he throw the pitch for strikes? Can he control the knuckleball,” Ferrin asked. “His last couple of starts he really has. He’s thrown a ton of pitches into the strikezone — a ton of knucklers in the strikezone and he’s increased the percentage of knuckleballs he’s used. I mean, he’s going 70 to 75 percent in this last outing.”
The other concern for knuckleball pitchers at the big league level is controlling the running game. Ferrin told Parks that Gamboa has a quick feet and a great move for a right handed pitcher.
Of course, secondary pitches remain important for any knuckleball pitcher. Gamboa can still work his fastball 90-91 MPH, but Ferrin says he still needs to work on his command of the pitch. Gamboa is still throwing his fastball when behind the count, 2-0 or 3-1. Ferrin adds that if Gamboa were to add a breaking ball to keep hitters off balance he could be a real interesting piece for the Orioles down the road.
As for the knuckler, Gamboa throws two variations. A harder knuckleball that works like a slider as it comes in on the hands of left handed batters and away from righties. His soft knuckleball moves like a changeup “with some armside fade.”
“The scout that I talked to had seen him a couple times and said ‘I think he’s as interesting as anything,'” Ferrin added. “He said ‘I will bet you right now that he will be in the big leagues before Labor Day.'”
Labor Day? That’d be one hell of a season for the career minor leaguer. Hopefully the knuckler succeeds at Triple-A, it would be great to see another valuable arm in Baltimore.