August 30, 2012
“Early on I just had that feeling that he was going to be a little bit more special than the others,” said Larry Turner, the head baseball coach at Owasso High School in Sperry, Oklahoma. He was reminiscing about Dylan Bundy. “The first time I saw him pitch he was probably about 10 years old,” Turner continued. “[Usually] you have some kids that were way ahead of others when they were young, and the other ones seem to catch up by the time they get to high school.” But Bundy “was the exception to the rule.”
Turner coached Bundy during his formative years, and he gives a lot of credit for Bundy’s success to the right-hander’s parents, specifically his father Denver. Dylan and his older brother Bobby, who also pitches in the Orioles’ farm system, learned the value of hard work from their father. “His work ethic is just unmatched,” Turner said of Dylan. “He’s a maniac about working out and doing everything he can to reach his potential.”
It isn’t just Oklahomans from Bundy’s hometown who love his makeup. “What I was most impressed about is how he fit in for a 19-year-old in big-league camp,” Rick Peterson, Baltimore’s Director of Pitching Development, said of Bundy. If you didn’t know any better, “you’d have had no idea that this kid was 19 years old.” Any organization would be thrilled to have a prospect with Bundy’s makeup in their system, but makeup is just where Bundy’s positive attributes begin.
Scouts and player development officials love Bundy’s stuff. His repertoire includes a fastball that sits in the upper 90s with some cut to it, supplemented by a changeup and a curveball, both of which have the makings of plus pitches. The curveball is sharp with 12-to-6 action, but one scout was more excited about the changeup, saying, “I don’t know how many times I’ve seen a high school kid come out with a changeup that far along.”
Bundy isn’t a finished product yet. In spring training, the Orioles sent him (and the rest of their pitchers) to ASMI to undergo detailed biomechanical analysis in Dr. James Andrews’ pitching lab. Bundy was eager to make changes to optimize his delivery, something that isn’t always true of pitchers who are so polished. However, his roughly six-foot frame and muscular build doesn’t lead evaluators to believe that there’s a lot of projection left. He needs to continue working on his secondary stuff, which should get better as he continues to log innings. “This is pretty much it, but it’s very good,” an opposing team’s scout said.
One pitch that’s missing from Bundy’s collection is his cutter, which earned some applause from evaluators when he was at Owasso. Philosophically, the Orioles don’t believe in having young power pitchers throw cutters. Peterson weighed in on the decision to scrap the cutter: “It has a major detriment to fastball velocity over time. It’s a pitch that can be very dangerous for young power pitchers.” Additionally, the Orioles weren’t overly impressed with the pitch when Bundy came to camp with it, which made the decision easy.
Almost from the start of the season, prospect hounds were eager to see Bundy promoted, but Baltimore’s plan for him was precise. The O’s intended to start him off at Low-A to let him get his feet wet in professional baseball. They wanted him to learn what the clubhouse was like and get used to finding his food, doing his laundry, and sitting on a bus for eight hours on a road trip. Had Bundy started off at a higher level, he might have strained his team’s bullpen early on, as the organization slowly built up his workload. He has since been bumped up to High-A and then again to Double-A, and he’s handled the transitions well, despite some small dips in his peripheral stats in his first few starts for Bowie. The pace of the promotions might not have been quick enough to satisfy everyone, but the Orioles knew what they were doing with Bundy before Opening Day and were content to take their time with him this season.
Two weeks ago, Kevin Goldstein wrote about Baltimore’s dilemma as the club considers whether to move him to the majors down the stretch. The Orioles could certainly use a shot in the arm as they aim to hang on for their first winning season since 1997 and nab a playoff spot in the process. Bundy’s makeup give evaluators confidence that he could handle the pressure, and many believe he could be effective against big leaguers who haven’t faced him before, but it’s unclear how a short stint with the Orioles might affect his development.
As Kevin pointed out, there is some precedent for bringing up a player like Bundy. David Price’s late-season promotion in 2008 played a key role in the Rays’ run to the World Series that year. Tampa Bay used Price in a relief role, then again as a starter the following season. Price’s development didn’t stagnate, and he’s now among the better starters in the game. Orioles fans may envision a similar situation for Bundy, but he’s just over a year removed from high school, which makes him a bit different from Price, whom the Rays nabbed with the first overall pick after a college career at Vanderbilt. However, Bundy signed a major-league contract after he was drafted, which means he’s on the 40-man roster and could be called up without removing anyone else from the roster. Buck Showalter's pre-game comments on Wednesday about sending Bundy to the instructional league when it starts on September 12th would seem to preclude this possibility, so the debate about Bundy's readiness probably won't be settled this season.
While it would be fun to see Bundy throwing 100-mph lasers in Camden Yards, expectations shouldn’t be through the roof, at least not from the get-go. Bundy is a superior talent, but he has yet to harness all of his ability. It’s easy to get enamored with elite velocity, but it’s also easy to get hammered despite elite velocity. A jump to the major leagues might have added marginal short-term value to the big-league club, but no one knows how it might have affected Bundy beyond 2012. Regardless of when he arrives, he appears destined to pitch at the top of the club’s rotation next season, and he’s bound to be a strong Rookie of the Year candidate.