Gabriel Fidler, Extra Innings (Follow along on Twitter.)
Though it will be overshadowed by multi-million dollar free agent signings and rumours of blockbuster trades at MLB’s Winter Meetings, the Baltimore Orioles made a major European signing on Dec. 5. According to the O’s Twitter account, the American League East club has signed Czech Republic national team member Jan Novak to a deal.
Novak, only 18, is a left-handed pitcher who stands 6-2 (1.88 m) and weighs 185 pounds (84 kg). Novak is quite raw and struggles with his command, but disguises a mid-to-high 80s (138 kmh) fastball with a deceptive release point. He also throws a changeup at 79-to-80 mph (127 kmh).
The native of Prague first burst onto the scene in 2010, when he was invited to Tirrenia, Italy, for MLB’s European Academy. Novak was once more accepted to the training camp in 2011 and 2012. In eight games during the last two programmes, Novak struck out 27 batters and allowed just 11 hits over 22 innings with a 2.45 ERA.
In 2012, the southpaw travelled to Regensburg, Germany, with the Czech national squad and saw action against the host nation in the World Baseball Classic. Novak did not retire a batter, giving up three earned runs on a pair of hits and two walks. He was, however, extremely unlucky, as his first batter tapped a ball to third for what should have been an easy out, but a throwing error led to a man on first. The next batter worked six pitches for a walk, and the third blooped a hit over the shortstop’s head. Novak was the youngest pitcher for Czech Republic.
Novak fared somewhat better in the 18-and-Under Baseball World Championships only a fortnight prior to the WBC. Pitching against Panamá, he took the loss after allowing three earned runs on seven hits and two walks in 5 1/3 innings. Novak threw 97 pitches, striking out four.
The lanky lefty played for Kotlářka Praha in the Czech Republic’s Extraliga in 2012. The team, who finished 20-15, has had two other players signed with major league clubs. Novak was 2-3 in 11 games, striking out 38 in only 28 1/3 frames, but walking 17 en route to a 5.72 ERA. A year earlier, Novak led Kotlářka Praha’s bullpen with a 2.31 ERA.
The Orioles will likely start their newest signing in extended spring training before he debuts in the Gulf Coast League.