Dylan Bundy, the prophecy child. In 2012, it took him only 103 minor league innings to get to the major league level. After signing late in 2011. Out of high school. It’s not too often that you see a 19-year-old making his major league debut, and finish that year in the majors with a zero ERA. Yet the Orioles haven’t gotten an inning out of him since then. So what happened?
Teenager turning heads
From the beginning, it was apparent that Bundy was going to be special. Dylan attempted to follow in the footsteps of his brother Bobby, who had been drafted by the Orioles in 2008.
Dylan instantly took to baseball. He was named Gatorade State Player of the Year (Hyperlink) as a High School sophomore in 2009. He won it again in 2010, and in 2011 he began to really turn heads. Bundy pitched to the tune of a 0.25 ERA, with 158 strikeouts in just 71 innings. This led to him becoming the first baseball player to win Gatorade’s Athlete of the Year award.
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June 6, 2011. The MLB Entry Draft was ready to kick off. This was a draft that has already produced major league pitching talent. Current Major League aces Jose Fernandez, Gerrit Cole, and Sonny Gray all came out of this first round. Even with all of that talent, Bundy did not have to wait long to hear his name called. The Baltimore Orioles selected him fourth overall. They signed their new star to a five-year major league contract with a $4 million signing bonus. More on the contract later.
Dylan Bundy was ready to start his professional career. Even at a mere 19 years old, scouts said Dylan Bundy looked like an ace. His four-seam fastball could reach 98 mph, and his two-seamer moved well in the low 90s. Bundy also sported a 75 mph curveball with a hard break. In high school, he favored a hybrid cutter/slider, but the Orioles shied him away from that and instead asked him to refine a changeup. His change has nice movement and usually sits at 85-87 mph.
The Orioles assigned Bundy rather aggressively for a high school pick, sending him to A-level Delmarva Shorebirds. It became apparent that nobody told Bundy how aggressive this assignment was, as batters started off 0-for-39 against him. The Right-hander had a 0.00 ERA in eight starts in the South Atlantic League. Clearly this was not a challenging level for him.
After a promotion to High-A Frederick, Bundy continued to shine. He pitched 12 starts and 57 innings for The Keys. In this timespan, he struck out 66 batters and managed a 2.84 ERA. Once again, he was not challenged. People around baseball began to wonder if he could make it to the major leagues this season.
Bundy’s time at AA Bowie was short-lived. He clearly didn’t have time to adjust to the level. Even with that, he had a 3.24 ERA and 1.32 WHIP in 16 ⅔ innings. Certainly respectable numbers, under the circumstances. The staff in Baltimore was impressed, as they called him up to the majors. He pitched 1 ⅔ innings at the Major League level, allowing zero earned runs.
Bundy finished 2012 in stunning fashion. He ended up with a 2.08 collective ERA in his 23 starts. He also had a fair amount of innings to build on at 104 ⅓ and racked up 119 K’s. In the offseason, mlb.com ranked him as the second-best prospect in all of baseball.
It started in spring training. Baseball fans around the country were excited to see Bundy pitch for the first time in months. Bundy started out strong, then was slowed down by injuries. In late March, he began feeling “elbow discomfort” and was shut down. He went on for a while, doing his best to recover and get past what was being called “Forearm discomfort.” We later learned Bundy had torn his Ulnar Collateral Ligament. On June 27, 2013, Dylan Bundy had Tommy John Surgery.
The year started out slowly for Bundy. Rehabilitation work, long tossing to build up arm strength. Then finally, on June 15, he was assigned to the Aberdeen IronBirds. This was the final step of his rehab work before resuming his career. Bundy allowed one earned run in his 15 inning stint with Aberdeen. He also struck out 22 and walked only 3. It was time to get back into things
Careful not to put too much on Bundy, The Orioles sent him back to Frederick on July 3. He struggled a bit but generally did well until mid-August. Bundy had pain in his back and was put on the disabled list for a Right Latissimus strain. He came back on September 1 and finished out his season with The Keys.
Bundy turned in a 4.78 ERA in Frederick, clearly bothered by injuries. He had pitched only 41 ⅓ innings the whole year. His return was taking much longer than anyone had hoped it would.
At last, Dylan Bundy was healthy again. He managed to get through spring training without a hitch, and The Orioles were ambitious about his return coming this season. He was put back at AA Bowie to start the year so that he could pick up his minor league career where he left off. Another possible motive was that his brother Bobby was also slated to start the year with Bowie. The Bundy boys were back together again.
The staff pitched Dylan very carefully, not allowing him to go deep into his outings. He ended up making eight starts and pitching 22 innings before the injury bug struck again. On May 26, he was put back on the Disabled List with a right shoulder injury. He did not pitch again in 2015 and finished the year out with a 3.68 ERA and 1.18 WHIP.
Baltimore has a storm brewing with Dylan Bundy now. Whether it was their fault or not, Bundy has only pitched 63 full innings since 2012. He also has not appeared in an Orioles uniform since then. Herein lies the problem.
When Bundy signed that five-year contract mentioned earlier, included in the deal were three “Minor League options.” This seemed to be of little significance at the time, but it’s becoming a huge deal for The Orioles.
Once someone makes their major league debut, their team has to use “Options” to send the player back down to the minor leagues. This means that when Bundy made his 1 ⅔ inning cameo in Baltimore, he forced them to start using options on him to further develop his abilities. Bundy has been a minor league player for the past three seasons. There are no more options. He has to stay with the major league club from now on, or else any club could claim him off of waivers.
The Orioles have a few choices to make with Bundy. They could just send him down to the minor leagues and risk losing the player who was supposed to be the face of their franchise. They could trade him and force some other team to figure it out. They could use him as a starter right out of the gates, and then shut him down for the season once his innings get too high. Or the most likely scenario: Bundy is a bullpen boy in 2016.
Using Bundy out of the bullpen would allow him to build up innings in shorter stints. It would also likely allow him to pitch throughout the 2016 season. A strong series of relief outings without injury would bring back his value, were The Orioles looking to trade him. He could probably return to a rotation spot in 2017 if he had a healthy season. Or his team could decide he’s best used in the later innings of a game. The Dylan Bundy situation should be a fascinating sub-plot to watch next season.