Orioles fans, stop me if you want, but I could go on and on. Those names are just a few of the highly regarded Orioles pitching prospects who saw their Major League hopes dashed during the run of 14 consecutive losing seasons the once proud Orioles franchise endured from 1998 to 2012. It was not pretty during those lean years, and pitching was often the culprit. The Orioles were forced to reach into their farm system and pluck young arms that would have benefitted from a bit more seasoning. For their Major League careers, these five put together a 156-196 record. Ponson was the only one of the bunch who lasted over ten seasons in the big leagues.
Now, the Orioles are flush with pitching. Some might say they even have too much, with Ubaldo Jimenez and his $50 million contract dangling in the breeze. This is a benefit for the Orioles’ current crop of young arms, led by Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey, the organization’s number one and two prospects as judged by most ranking systems.
In years past, I have no doubt that Bundy would have been ticketed for a spot in the back end of the rotation as the Orioles readied themselves for another slog through a 70-win season. Now, Bundy and Harvey get a chance to take the necessary time in the minors to finish their development. This is key for two players who were drafted fresh out of high school and have already faced arm troubles early in their careers.
Hopes are high for both Bundy and Harvey, and rightfully so. Bundy returned from Tommy John surgery late last summer, and had mixed results. The numbers Bundy put up in 2012 were eye-popping to say the least – 9-3 record, 2.08 ERA, 10.3 K/9 – so he is to be forgiven if his 2014 numbers show a bit of a slide – 1-3 record, 3.27 ERA, and 8.1 K/9 in nine starts. The 2014 campaign was a step in the right direction, and Bundy could very well be Major League ready for a September playoff push. Bundy is ticketed for Double-A Bowie.
The Orioles did not initially announce where the 20-year old Harvey will start the season. He got as high as Low-A Delmarva last year before being shut down with elbow discomfort. In his 87.2 innings at Delmarva, Harvey struck out nearly 11 per nine innings pitched. Harvey should rise quickly through the ranks of the Orioles system, but there is no need to rush given the stability of the rotation in recent years. The Orioles would be wise to give the slight Harvey at least another full season in the minors to fill into his 6′-3″ frame. The right-hander is listed at only 175 pounds and could benefit from increased strength.
The future is bright for both of these two hurlers. The Orioles benefit most by allowing them to pitch a full minor league season as starting pitchers, as that is where their ultimate value lies at the Major League level. The 2015 season is about gradually stretching out the innings count and preparing Bundy and Harvey for the next level. With Kevin Gausman already establishing himself as a potential ace, the Orioles appear to finally have left behind the string of underperforming pitching prospects.
More than anything, developing a true ace is the key to Baltimore remaining a force in the AL East. Gausman looks well on his way to being just that. From where I sit, it looks like the Orioles may have two more waiting in the wings.