June 6th 2011; this was an all-important day as the Baltimore Orioles were desperately looking to upgrade their pitching staff after a 2010 season that saw a terribly disappointing finish, dead last. The 66-96 record was, in large part, due to an abominable pitching staff in which not a single starting pitcher finished the season with a winning record. So who would the Orioles choose with their fourth overall pick in the pitcher heavy 2011 MLB Amateur Draft, which included names such as Gerrit Cole, Trevor Bauer, Jose Fernandez and Sonny Gray? You guessed it, Dylan Bundy.
As a Senior at Owasso HS this 2011 Gatorade National Player of the Year went 11-0 with a staggering 0.20 ERA. His career high school ERA was below 1.00 with 595 strikeouts, so it’s no wonder he received a $4 million signing bonus to go along with his high expectations and a 5-year contract. Dylan Bundy was arguably the best pitching prospect available in the 2011 Draft, and like many fans, I was excited about his future.
So now the 2016 season is about to begin and where is our Ace? There’s an unfortunate answer to that question. The 23-year old is on the brink of becoming just another overpaid prospect to never make it in the majors. This happens all too often in MLB but that’s the risk you take. Does anyone remember Matt Hobgood? This is my point exactly and now we have yet another 1st round pick whose career may end in a similar fashion, forgotten and unknown.
Call to the Pen
Similar to Hobgood, Bundy had only one minor league season under his belt before injury struck and surgery soon followed. In 2012 Dylan pitched in 23 games, ending the season with a promising 9-3 record with a 2.08 ERA. 2012 also included a brief debut in the Majors were he pitched 1.2 innings in relief between two games. This exciting start would end in anticlimax. At the end of this season Dylan Bundy would undergo Tommy John surgery which would shut him down for the entire 2013 season.
One of two things usually happens to a prospect after a major surgery. Fans either disappointingly turn their attention to the next big prospect or media coverage does a good job of keeping the prospect circulating with continued expectations. The downside of the latter is the potential continuation of that disappointment. This has been exactly the issue in the case of Dylan Bundy. The fans are as tired of hearing about his potential as Dylan must be with his streak of ongoing injuries that have kept him from progressing. In 2014 he was forced to manage Calcific Tendinitis in his shoulder, which shut him down for four months, and forearm and elbow stiffness throughout 2015.
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This 2016 season holds the career, of this once potential ace, in the balance. Bundy is out of options, which means, if Bundy can’t be an effective part of the active roster then he will be placed on waivers and most assuredly picked up by another team and potentially wither away in their minor league system. With that being said, we’ll definitely see him on the roster all year so what are we to expect out of the rookie this year?
Not to continue to build unrealistic expectations, fans will likely see Bundy find a home in a relief role this year and most certainly not vying for a starting position. Spring training will give the Orioles staff their first opportunity to see this young man pitch as close to healthy as he’s been since 2012. If Dylan can stay healthy all year and be effective in the minimal roles he’s likely to get, there stands a chance he could eventually find himself in a starting role. On the other side of the coin, one more injury could put him on the outside looking in, and although my expectations are low, I would love to see this kid’s potential finally come to fruition.
The upside for fans is that Dylan is only 23-years old, so there’s still a chance he can put together a solid major league career. If we look at his counterparts from the same draft, Cole, Gray and Fernandez, the biggest difference in their minor league careers is experience. Bundy has only pitched 166.3 frames in the minors. The other three accumulated 630.2 innings between them before making their debut, which comes out to a 210.1 inning average. That’s only a 7/8 game difference. So I don’t think Bundys lack of minor league experience will hold him back, if anything holds him back it will be his ability to stay healthy because when you have the kind of raw talent that Bundy has, seven or eight games seems meaningless.
Like most of us, I want to give Bundy the benefit of the doubt but at this point it’s going to be up to him to show us what he’s got. He holds the difficult task of building confidence in fans, and the Orioles staff, that he can go out there and stay healthy. Once this can be accomplished he’ll have his opportunity to impress us with his ability to live up to his potential. Assuming he can fulfill this first task in the bullpen, which means not pushing himself too hard and using this opportunity as a rehab assignment, look for Bundy to make a more significant impact in the 2017 season. We’re all routing for Dylan but it’s up to him to make this happen.