Examining a frequent January question for Orioles: What can they expect from Hunter Harvey?

This winter's change in the Orioles' offseason rhythms meant the team's annual pitching minicamp in Sarasota, Fla., wasn't held. A trip to Florida in this cold weather would have been welcome for all involved, but one of the main drawbacks was missing out on what's been an Orioles minicamp tradition almost as long as the event itself: What can everyone expect from Hunter Harvey this year?

Each January, the event has been something of a benchmark in the offseason evaluation of the Orioles' former first-round draft pick, who was one of the top pitching prospects in baseball in his full-season debut during the summer of 2014 but dealt with elbow discomfort that July that derailed his career.


The following January, he went to Florida a few weeks into his throwing program and reported a clean bill of health, but a spring training line drive off his leg put him on the disabled list once the minor league season began. His elbow acted up shortly after he returned, and though examinations continued to reveal no structural damage, he didn't pitch at all in 2015.

At the 2016 minicamp, Harvey again said he was fully healthy, but that spring it was a groin injury that ultimately required sports hernia surgery that kept him from the mound. He made five appearances while building himself back up before his elbow gave out, and he eventually had Tommy John surgery to finally fix the issue. When doctors operated, they found a ligament that was essentially mush — nothing that would show up on an MRI, but the source of his discomfort nonetheless.

Harvey returned late in 2017 with his previous form intact, and after another proclamation of clean health at minicamp, he competed for a rotation spot deep into spring training in 2018 before going to bide his time at Double-A Bowie before more misfortune hit his career.

While in the dugout of a game he wasn't pitching, Harvey’s shirt sleeve caught the top railing as he ducked to avoid a foul ball, causing structural damage in his shoulder. When he was finally back throwing, his elbow acted up again. The Orioles insisted it was just discomfort then, with no structural damage. Given the chance, minicamp would have been an opportunity to hear that Harvey was feeling strong and ready to compete for a major league spot again.

The Orioles' short- and long-term prognosis would probably be brighter if that were the case. He's always had a big fastball, and his curveball has the potential to be a plus pitch. He's never really gotten the chance to hone his changeup in game action, and team officials said in the fall that he was adding a cutter in his bullpen sessions — which would give him a potential bat-missing pitch that could play off the fastball.

That type of pitcher would be quite valuable to a team that's short on big arms. While Harvey still has two minor league options available, he might be best served building up his innings at the major league level under the auspices of not wasting bullets.

While the comparisons with Dylan Bundy should start and stop with the idea that they were both first-round picks with long, elbow-induced layoffs early in their careers, the way the Orioles built Bundy up in the big league bullpen could be a blueprint for how they might handle Harvey at this level.

But Bundy was out of minor league options, and that plan was out of necessity, not necessarily his best interest. The Orioles also don't have the type of playoff aspirations they could use to sell that plan. But for any of that to matter, they need a healthy Harvey to take part in any of these scenarios.

For an organization that's trading almost solely on hope and promise for the future in 2019, that would be one way to start.