11/19/2013 12:07 P.M. ET
Pipeline Perspectives: Hard work will lift Bundy
Orioles prospect a better bet to rebound from Tommy John surgery than Nats' Giolito
By Jim Callis / MLB.com
There's a good amount of subjectivity regarding baseball prospects. With the evaluation of talent being in the eye of the beholder, finding consensus is often difficult. Even Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo at MLBPipeline.com don't always see eye-to-eye. They'll be discussing their viewpoints regularly in a feature called Pipeline Perspectives. Submit a topic for them to debate.
Lucas Giolito might have been the first high school right-hander ever selected No. 1 overall in the First-Year Player Draft had he not blown out his elbow in March 2012. Dylan Bundy could have helped the Orioles make a better push for a second straight playoff berth this year if he hadn't suffered the same fate during Spring Training.
Both pitchers are on the mend from Tommy John surgery, but who is more likely to reach his sky-is-the-limit potential? Though Jonathan Mayo opts for Giolito, who fell to the Nationals at No. 16 and already is back on the mound because he had his elbow reconstruction 10 months before Bundy had his, I believe more in Bundy for two reasons.
First, it isn't clear that the human body is built to throw as hard and at such a young age as Giolito did before he got hurt. In the winter before his senior season at Harvard-Westlake School in Studio City, Calif., a then-17-year-old Giolito hit 100 mph with his fastball and 86 mph with his curveball. That's frightening stuff, from the perspective of trying to hit it -- and in hoping Giolito will hold up over time, even with his strong 6-foot-6, 225-pound frame and easy delivery.
Bundy isn't lacking for stuff, either. His compact 6-foot-1, 195-pound frame generates mid-90s four-seam fastballs, low-90s two-seamers, high-80s cutters and changeups and upper-70s curveballs. All five pitches grade at above average or better at times. Bundy throws with an athletic delivery that, like Giolito's, seemingly puts little stress on his arm.
The other reason to bet on Bundy is his track record. Giolito has worked a grand total of 38 2/3 professional innings, none above short-season Class A ball, and still has much to prove. In his lone season as a pro, Bundy shot from low Class A to Baltimore, becoming the fourth teenager to pitch in the Major Leagues in the past decade. As a 20-year-old, he figured to claim a full-time job in the Orioles' rotation at some point in 2013.
Bundy went fourth overall in the 2011 Draft and signed a $6.225 million big league contract (including a $4 million bonus) because scouts considered him the most advanced high school pitcher in recent memory. His stuff and command were as precocious as expected, and he began his pro career with 13 straight no-hit innings in 2012. Bundy went 9-3 with a 2.08 ERA and a 119-28 strikeouts-to-walks ratio in 103 2/3 innings between three Minor League stops, and he contributed two scoreless relief appearances to Baltimore's playoff drive in September.
The good news with Tommy John surgery is that pitchers often make a full recovery. Bundy's legendary work ethic -- check out "Dylan Bundy workout" on YouTube -- gives him an even better chance of coming all the way back, and he already has demonstrated that he can dominate Minor League hitters and work his way to the Majors.
O's farm director Brian Graham says Bundy's rehabilitation has gone according to plan. He had surgery in late June and should begin a throwing program in early December.
"It's a progression set by Dr. James Andrews and Dave Walker, our Minor League medical coordinator," Graham said. "Every single point, he gets ahead of where he's supposed to be. We've had to slow him down."
It's too early to speculate on exactly when and where Bundy will return to game action, though he should be able to pitch in the Minors at some point during the first half of next season. Likewise, it's unknown when he'll make his return to Baltimore. Yet everything the Orioles have seen so far gives them confidence that Bundy eventually will become the front-line starter they envisioned when they drafted him.
"He can be better than he was prior to the injury," Graham said. "He's a special kid with special makeup and a special arm. I'm certain we'll be conservative with him, but at the same time, he wants to come back and pitch."