Baltimore Orioles facing unique situation with Dylan Bundy

Dylan Bundy roared through the Baltimore Orioles’ farm system in his first professional season in 2012, posting a 9-3 record, 2.08 ERA, and 119 strikeouts in 103.2 innings. That performance earned him a September callup as the Orioles were in severe need of bullpen help as they chased their first postseason berth since 1997. Calling Bundy up made sense at the time, and he did not allow a run in 1.2 innings in two appearances.

Unfortunately for the Orioles, Bundy was signed to a Major League contract upon being drafted. For those unfamiliar with the inner workings of a Major League contract, a player signed to a Major League contract can be optioned to the minor leagues for the first three years of his contract. After those three years have passed, a player cannot be sent down without clearing waivers. There are a few more stipulations and details in the fine print, but the main point is that following the 2015 season, Dylan Bundy will have exhausted his three minor league option years. The Orioles will not want to lose Bundy, and his potential would still make him attractive to the remaining 29 Major League teams that would have a crack at him on the waiver wire.

Although Bundy has suffered a myriad of injuries since his spectacular 2012 season, he did appear to be back on track this season. In eight games with Double-A Bowie, the 22-year-old had struck out 25 hitters in 22.0 innings. His fastball was beginning to show signs of the life that made him Baseball America’s number-two prospect prior to the 2013 season. Bundy was also regaining command of his secondary pitches, something he struggled with during his abbreviated 2014 season, his first season back following Tommy John surgery. The calcium buildup in his shoulder that has kept Bundy from pitching since May 21 does not point to long-term structural damage, but the Orioles must continue to be patient with Bundy as they wait for it to clear up.

The situation facing the Orioles and Dylan Bundy in the 2016 season is not ideal. After nearly three full seasons lost to injuries, he is not likely to be truly ready to have an impact at the Major League level, especially in the starting rotation. That being said, Bundy could provide an impact out of the bullpen as he builds up his arm strength and adjusts to big league hitters. Even if Bundy were to spend 2016 in the minor leagues, he would have been on a strict innings count to begin with. The right-hander had thrown only 22.0 innings in eight starts this season. The Orioles will have to bring him along slowly, but he can have an impact for the big league club coming out of the bullpen.

Bundy’s status will need to be closely monitored the remainder of the 2015 season with an eye on next year. The Orioles cannot afford to lose him, and will have to find a role for him in the bullpen. That means his offseason should be spent acclimating to the rigors of pitching in short relief bursts. Kevin Gausman was ticketed to the bullpen at the start of the season after spending Spring Training in limbo, and overexerted himself initially out of the bullpen resulting in a minor shoulder injury. Bundy will not be in that situation, but a season spent in the bullpen will serve to prepare him for starting come 2017. He could also continue on as a flame-throwing setup man should space not materialize in the Orioles’ rotation.

The Orioles were in a similar position with Zach Britton prior to the 2014 season. Although Britton did not come with the same injury history, his position was up in the air and he could not be optioned. That’s worked out pretty well for the Orioles, as Britton has morphed into arguably the most reliable closer in the American League. When Dylan Bundy arrived in the Majors in 2012, most thought it would mark a coronation. Injuries have delayed that coronation, but if Bundy stays on track, he will finally have his place in the Major Leagues in 2016.

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