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August 15, 2012

Future Shock

The Bundy Dilemma

by Kevin Goldstein

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When the Orioles promoted top positional prospect Manny Machado last week, there was a lot of debate as to whether or not the 20-year-old infielder was ready for the big leagues since he had just 928 minor league plate appearances. He's made the decision look good so far, but what is beyond debate is that the Orioles acted aggressively, which brought up the obvious question: if Machado, then why not Dylan Bundy?

For those who missed it, Bundy is the 19-year-old phenom who has taken the lower levels on the minor leagues by storm. The fourth overall pick in the 2011 draft had a 0.00 ERA in eight starts for Low-A Delmarva, and while he was more mortal at High-A Frederick, he was recently bumped up to Double-A Bowie with an overall 1.92 ERA and 103 strikeouts over 84 1/3 innings. His fastball sits in the mid-to-upper 90s, both his curveball and changeup are advanced, and for much of the season he hasn't been allowed to throw his low 90s cutter, which some believe is his best pitch. For many, he's the best pitching prospect in baseball.

Bundy made his Double-A debut last night, with plenty of Orioles officials and even Jim Thome in attendance. He allowed a pair of earned runs over 5 1/3 innings while striking out three. He has some occasional command issues, but some in attendance thought they saw a few cutters come out of his hand, which could be something to read into in terms of preparing him for a major league role.

So should the Orioles bring Bundy up for the stretch run? Everything is certainly lining up for them in terms of talent, workload, and even precedent. “The are two questions to ask if you are Baltimore,” said a National League official in terms of a potential Bundy call up. “The first is will the stuff play, and the second is can he handle it emotionally. The answer to the first one seems to be a resounding yes.”

During the spring, the Orioles bandied about an innings count of somewhere around 120 for Bundy. Even with Monday night's outing, he's still at just 89 2/3 innings, which leaves another 30-plus in the bank. He'll likely make three more Eastern League starts for Bowie, which will put him somewhere in the neighborhood of 105.

Scouts believe Bundy could have value in the big leagues right now, at a level ranging from solid to big impact, and there's a model for how to use him: David Price. In 2008, Price was the best pitching prospect in baseball, the first overall pick in the previous year. Across three levels, he threw 109 2/3 innings during the minor league regular season. In the midst of a historic season, Price came up in September as a bullpen arm. He ended up throwing 5 1/3 innings of relief in his debut, coming in after a disastrous start in Yankee Stadium by Edwin Jackson, and other than a spot start in September, he was used in short stints of 14 to 31 pitches. He was exclusively a reliever in the playoffs, throwing 5 2/3 innings in five games, including a dramatic save in gave seven of the ALCS against Boston. He still threw less than 130 innings in the season, the Rays never wavered from seeing him as a starter, and he spent the majority of the following year in the rotation. “I love the idea of Baltimore bringing up Bundy in a Price-like role,” said another NL executive, “but they have to let him throw that cutter, and the one difference that I'd wonder about is that Price was 23 years old at the time. Bundy is 19.”

Only four teenagers have pitched in the post-season, and three of them spent a good amount of the regular season that year in the big leagues:

 

Player

Year

Regular Season Innings

Bert Blyleven

1970

164.0

Ken Brett

1967

2.0

Don Drysdale

1956

99.0

Don Gullett

1970

77.2

 

Yes, Bundy is just 19, but he's lauded for his maturity and work ethic, has already spent spring training with the big league club, and because he received a big league contract when signing last August, moving him to Baltimore requires no roster shenanigans.

The Orioles are in the midst of a historic season, in that they haven't had a winning season since 1997, when the first Playstation was the hot video game console, Hanson's MMMBop topped the charts and Cal Ripken's consecutive game streak was still alive. Bundy can help this team right now as either a starter or reliever. Scouts think he could get hitters out now in one-inning stints, and even as a starter, simply providing five strong innings four times in September could represent a massive upgrade over what the back of the current rotation has been supplying lately.

You have the potential to make a bit of history Baltimore, and Dylan Bundy has about 30 innings left. Use them wisely.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

 

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

Related Content:  Scouting,  Dylan Bundy

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