Has any prospect in recent memory combined as much brilliance and heartache as Dylan Bundy?
In 2011, Bundy was drafted 4th overall out of Owasso High School, and he signed for a $4 MM bonus. Heading into the 2012 season, he was a consensus top-ten prospect in the game, peaking at 6th overall on Baseball Prospectus’s list. Bundy lived up to that hype in his first professional season, pitching to the following line between Single-A, High-A, and Double-A - 103.2 IP, 67 H, 28 BB, 119 K, 2.08 ERA. He made his big league debut that year, too. As a result of this, he was a consensus top-five prospect heading into 2013, with both Baseball America and MLB.com ranking him second overall. The sky was the limit, it seemed...
...and then his elbow started hurting in the Spring, and he opened the season on the disabled list. He underwent Tommy John Surgery in late-June, and missed the entirety of 2013. Bundy returned in June of 2014, making all of nine appearances before being shut down in August due to soreness in his elbow and shoulder. He came back ready to go in 2015, but that season ended early, as well - he was placed on the disabled list with shoulder soreness (a result of calcification) on May 21. He did make two appearances in the Arizona Fall League (where he threw 2.0 IP), but the outlook was not good.
Bundy was out of options this year, so the Orioles needed to either find a place for him on the roster, or risk losing him through waivers. He made the bullpen out of Spring Training, and has remained there throughout the season. And he has had a solid albeit unspectacular year on the whole - 38 IP, 46 H, 12 BB, 32 K, 3.08 ERA, 1.53 WHIP. Bundy’s velocity was in the low-90s, as opposed to the high-90s of his halcyon days (it feels strange writing that about a 23-year-old), and he was more hittable than his former stuff would have portended - but he is finally pitching, and that is a victory in and of itself.
Recently, though, he has begun to show flashes of that prospect pedigree. In his last six appearances, he has produced the following line - 14.1 IP, 11 H, 4 BB, 19 K, 0.00 ERA, 1.05 WHIP. Bundy struck out seven in his most recent appearance, a 2.1 IP effort against the Dodgers. And that is not entirely luck, either, as his stuff appears to be bouncing back.
In April, Bundy’s fastball velocity was 94.32 MPH. It climbed to 94.93 in May, and 96.00 in June. And then, in his lone appearance in July to date, it averaged 96.60 MPH. The greater differentiation between his fastball and change-up has also led to more whiffs on both pitches over time:
It’s a slow and steady trend, and July can likely be thrown out the window - but the whiff rates on both his fastball and change-up have jumped by a tick over 5% each since the first month of the season.
It would be naive to suggest that Bundy is back as a result of all of this, but these trends are encouraging nevertheless. He should be a legitimate weapon in the bullpen going forward, and, while he may not be in the position for saves, that has value in both the real world and fantasy baseball. However, it may bear noting that the Orioles have taken notice of his recent dominance, too.
In a recent interview, when asked about moving Bundy to the rotation later in the season GM Dan Duquette said “[t]hat’s a possibility. We signed him to be a starting pitcher and we have been training him and grooming him to come back as a starter. When the time is right for that, I’m sure the organization will do the right thing.” Bundy is on an innings limit of somewhere between 65 and 80 IP, so the organization would need to blow past that to have any sort of effective sample size to work with; and, as a first place team with one and a half dependable starters, the Orioles’ hand could be forced. Stranger things have happened.
Going forward, at least for this season, it does seem unlikely that Bundy will be anything more than a long reliever tossing a couple of innings on a semi-regular schedule (and I do buy into him in that role). That regular schedule is the key, though, as he has been conditioned to pitch in game situations every fourth or fifth day. And I do think that we’ll see him make at least one start this season.
Regardless of what is yet to come, I am rooting for Bundy all the way.