Dylan Bundy's fast track to the majors during his first full pro season in 2012 might have some thinking that the Orioles top prospect will return to the big leagues sooner rather than later.
But as Bundy prepared to pitch for the Single-A Aberdeen IronBirds on Saturday -- his second start since undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery -- the Orioles made clear that they will bring the 20-year-old right-hander along carefully.
"This season is a rehab process," Orioles player development director Brian Graham said. "We need to be patient and get him back on track the right way and we need to get him ready to be a productive part of this system come next spring. Whatever he does this year is a rehab process. Depending on how fast he comes will depend on how he finishes this year."
Bundy, the Orioles' first-round pick in 2011 and the team's top prospect according to Baseball America, allowed one run on five hits over five innings in his first start with the IronBirds on Sunday against the Hudson Valley Renegades.
As was the case in his first outing, he is slated to throw five innings or 75 pitches Saturday night against the Brooklyn Cyclones. He is slated to make one more start at Aberdeen before being re-evaluated and possibly moved to a higher minor league level.
"I would say the only thing he could improve on is locating his changeup, which is his third-best pitch," IronBirds manager Matt Merullo said before Saturday's game. "Coming back from surgery, the last thing a player gets after getting his strength back is his feel … his ability to make pitches and hit his spots. He was hurt on a couple changeups [in his first outing] that he left up in the zone and his speed was a little bit high.
"He's healthy. That's the main thing. He may take a step backward tonight in terms of results or performance, but in the long run he's moving forward because he's building innings and he's gaining experience and making up for some lost time."
Merullo said Bundy's fastball command was good and his curveball was solid. Bundy's fastball sat at 93 mph in his first start, which is right where the Orioles expected him to be nearly one year after having surgery on June 27, 2013.
"I don't think that's something we need to evaluate right now," Graham said. "His velocity right now is at a good place. I would anticipate it even being higher in the next month. He's fine right now."
Bundy's next step is uncertain, but he will likely move methodically up the minor league affiliate ladder as he continues to build innings.
"We're going to have to make a baseball decision based on how he pitches," Graham said. "Certainly health will be the most important factor in the decision, and then performance. For him to continue to develop and improve coming back from the surgery, he's got to be at levels where he can compete, and it's a progression where he can have success and that's going to help him get better."