Originally posted on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 9/19/12

Few things get baseball fans more excited than the opportunity to begin taking an extraordinary young talent for granted, so baseball circles are abuzz right now with talk of the Orioles’ promotion of top prospect Dylan Bundy. It didn’t at any point appear as if Bundy would see the majors in 2012, so this news comes as a surprise, but few were also counting on the Orioles to remain in the race for this long, and now the circumstances are what the circumstances are. Suddenly, Bundy makes some good sense.

To hear the Orioles tell it, they weren’t going to call Bundy up, then Tuesday night they played the Mariners for seventy innings, so they decided to call Bundy up. It might seem short-sighted to you for the Orioles to change their plans for a top prospect because a September game went longer than expected, but for one thing, the Orioles kind of need to be short-sighted at the moment, and for another, how likely is this to stunt Bundy’s development, really? It doesn’t matter so much that the Orioles changed their plans if the difference for Dylan Bundy is small or inconsequential.

It does seem silly to alter the course of Bundy’s development because the big-league bullpen is temporarily short-handed, but consider where the Orioles are and just what they’re fighting for. They’re one behind the Yankees in the loss column in the AL East, and they’re a few games up in the wild card. The Orioles haven’t made the playoffs since 1997, and every single one of their games now is an important game. Put another way, the Orioles’ game-to-game leverage is at a season high, so little things can be big things. Even if Bundy is only a small boost on paper, maybe that’s the small boost that gets the Orioles into the one-game playoff or even beyond it. This is a critical time for the Orioles organization, and as they showed with the Manny Machado promotion, they’re looking to be aggressive in order to make this happen.

Bundy is supposedly only going to fill a bullpen role, after making 23 minor-league starts across three levels. Said Dan Duquette:

“But sometimes it’s best to have pitchers get their feet wet out of the bullpen, right? That is where he’ll go for tonight’s game and after that, Buck (Showalter) will decide how he wants to utilize his skill. He’s worked hard to put himself in this position, there is a need and he’s on the roster.”

Obviously, Bundy is viewed as a starter long-term. Obviously, right now the Orioles aren’t thinking so much about the long-term. They had a sudden need, they had a potential in-system solution, and now the Orioles will see what Bundy can do.

And that’s really what this is about. Bundy’s just 19 and he’s hardly pitched above single-A, so he doesn’t immediately stand out as an obvious plug, but evaluators have long believed that he throws major-league stuff, and major-league stuff can play well in the major leagues. If Bundy makes an appearance or three and struggles, well, so be it, maybe that should’ve been expected. If Bundy commands his pitches and flourishes, he could help the Orioles in September, and he could help the Orioles in October, since he’s eligible for the playoff roster. (Though he wasn’t on the 25-man roster before August 31, the Orioles have pitchers on the DL that Bundy could replace.)

Dave Cameron suggested that Bundy could get the Matt Moore treatment. Moore made three appearances with the Rays last September, and he was good enough that he got onto the playoff roster, from which he threw ten innings in the ALDS. No one with the Orioles is going to get ahead of themselves, but Bundy could well be important over the next handful of weeks.

So just what does Bundy throw, if you don’t already know? Here’s Dave on Bundy from April, and here’s Kiley McDaniel on Bundy from May. He’s got a fastball in the mid- to high-90s, a dynamite curve, a quality changeup, and a cutter that the Orioles won’t allow Bundy to throw right now. There was a Bundy pitch that was making the Internet rounds a few weeks ago. Here is a .gif of it.

(video source)

That’s just one pitch, but it speaks to the whole Dylan Bundy experience, at least when he has his command. When Bundy is spotting his pitches reasonably well, he’s nigh unhittable. Every pitcher is better when he’s locating his pitches, but an on-point Bundy has as high a ceiling as anyone.

Bundy did end up getting challenged after he was finished embarrassing low-A. He allowed a .304 OBP with Frederick and a .319 OBP with double-A Bowie. In three starts with Bowie, Bundy posted eight walks and 13 strikeouts. But we’re talking about three starts, and we’re talking about three starts from a guy with the pitches noted above. We can’t conclude much of anything from Bundy’s double-A performance, and in the immediate, his stuff could even conceivably play up as a reliever. Add a few ticks to Bundy’s velocity and he’ll have more of a margin of error with his command.

The Orioles promoted Machado from double-A when he had a .789 OPS, and in the majors he’s posted a .708 OPS. Position-player adjustments are more predictable, because position players are always reacting to pitchers. Pitcher adjustments are less predictable, because they’re the ones making players react to them. Bundy certainly isn’t as intelligent about pitching as he will be down the road, but his stuff is phenomenal, and if he’s locating it, he’ll get hitters out, no matter how good they are. All of the weapons are there, which means Bundy just has to throw his pitches more or less where he wants to.

As we learned from the Trevor Bauer experience, immediate big-league success for pitching prospects with awesome stuff isn’t automatic. We can’t simply assume that Bundy will get the job done, and the Orioles will certainly be cautious. For now, I think it’s safe to say the Orioles aren’t counting on Bundy for much of anything down the stretch, and they’ll see what happens. But the potential is there for Bundy to be a big help, as far as the Orioles getting to the playoffs is concerned, and as far as the Orioles succeeding in the playoffs is concerned. Weapons don’t get much more potent.


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