Anyone who has been around Orioles manager Buck Showalter’s pregame news conferences has noticed how often he asked about Dylan Bundy’s minor league outings during the course of the season.
Some of it is Showalter’s deadpan shtick, but you could defeinitely tell that the Orioles skipper was itching to kick the tires on the organization’s top pitching prospect this season.
The Orioles’ sudden summoning of Bundy today to add bullpen depth shouldn’t be too surprising. A few weeks back, Showalter announced that the 19-year-old phenom would not be a late-season call up, but instead participate in the organization’s instructional league in Sarasota, Fla.
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But until then, all signs pointed to Bundy joining the big club in September. The way the organization built up Bundy’s innings while holding him to a predetermined limit of 130 hinted that he could join the Orioles for the stretch run. And the idea of having Bundy's power arm in the pen for the pennant push is undoubtedly tempting.
Bundy, who was 9-3 with a 2.08 ERA with 119 strikeouts and 67 hits in 103 2/3 innings across three minor league levels, finished his season going 2-0 with a 3.24 ERA in three starts at Double-A Bowie.
There’s no arguing that there are things Bundy could work on in the instructional league, primarily keeping his pitches down in the zone. He could also hone his breaking ball and off-speed pitches and improve with holding runners and his time to the plate. He's not a complete majors-ready product yet.
But that doesn’t mean he can’t have success at the major league level now.
The Orioles obviously need bullpen help now, after their 18-inning win in Seattle on Tuesday. And Bundy is just one of two pitchers on the 40-man rosters who haven’t yet joined the big league roster. The other, right-hander Oliver Drake, has been on the disabled list most of the season and hasn’t pitched since late May. And the Orioles’ brass made it clear that left-handed reliever Zach Phillips, who joined the team this month, was the only non 40-man player considered for a September call-up.
Also, Showalter often talks about the benefits young players receive from being a part of postseason pushes. He often points to how a 21-year-old Derek Jeter benefited from a September call up in 1995 and then shined in the postseason spotlight the next season. It was one of the reasons the Orioles decided to call up third baseman Manny Machado last month.
They will definitely use Bundy in relief for now. And he will be the available long-relief arm behind starter Joe Saunders -- Showalter likes to have a right-handed long man for left-handed starters – to get his feet wet. But given his success, his role could grow, but still don’t expect him to be starting any time soon.
One thing the Orioles have done well this year is knowing their players. Bundy, a relentless worker, will see this opportunity as his chance to show he belongs in the big leagues. The Orioles realize Bundy’s makeup -- like Machado before him -- will allow him to be successful at the big league level provided he’s given the placed in situations to excel.
In bringing up Bundy now, they likely commit to keeping him for the rest of the month. If he does well, maybe he puts himself in a position for a postseason roster spot – all players in the organization by July 31 are eligible. Pitchers in similar positions -- most notably a 22-year-old David Price for the Rays in 2008 -- used postseason success as a springboard to the big leagues. Worst case scenario, he comes to spring training next year with valuable major league experience and is one step closer to earning a roster spot.