Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey — right-handed starting pitchers drafted out of high school in 2011 and 2013, respectively — began the season ranked one, two atop the Baltimore Orioles’ prospect pool. Bundy has thrown 22.0 innings in 2015. Most likely, he will finish the season with the same innings total after being shut down with a shoulder injury. Harvey has not logged a single inning after breaking a bone in his leg during Spring Training and then developing elbow soreness. The 20-year-old was shut down last season after just 87.2 innings with a flexor mass strain. Harvey does appear likely to work his way back to the mound by the end of the year, and has begun a throwing program.
The constant battle with injuries that Bundy and Harvey have faced — Bundy has already undergone Tommy John surgery after the 2012 season — puts the Orioles in an extremely tight spot. This is a franchise that has had no success whatsoever in developing starting pitching since Mike Mussina made his debut all the way back in 1991. That was 24 years ago.
In the current Orioles’ rotation, only Kevin Gausman can truly claim to have been developed by the Orioles from draft to big leagues. Chris Tillman was a trade acquisition, Ubaldo Jimenez a free agent, and Wei Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez were established international names from Taiwan and Mexico. The Orioles have shown no ability to draft and develop starting pitching in well over two decades, and it has made for a constant struggle to field a competitive rotation. Zach Britton and Brian Matusz, both high draft picks struggled mightily in the starting rotation, but have found success in the bullpen. Jake Arrieta was given up on and traded for Scott Feldman. Arrieta oozed potential with the Orioles, but they could not harness it. He is now 20-10 in his past 43 starts for the Chicago Cubs with a 2.59 ERA.
Scott Feldman went 5-6 with a 4.27 ERA in 15 starts for the Orioles. Cool.
The Orioles are a team that cannot afford to see their young starting pitching prospects shrivel up in the minor leagues. This is a team one or two bad years away from beginning the vicious cycle of rushing pitchers to the Majors or being stuck with retreads like Bruce Chen and Kevin Millwood. Offense was never the problem as the losses piled up from 1998 to 2012. It was always pitching, especially the starting variety. Even the current iteration of the rotation appears to be getting by mainly on smoke and mirrors.
The Orioles went all in on starting pitching in the first round of the draft from 2011 to 2013. Those drafts landed Bundy, Gausman, and Harvey. Of the three, only Gausman has come close to sticking in the Major Leagues. The Orioles cannot afford to see two-thirds of those picks fail. There should now be serious concerns about Bundy’s status going forward. Same goes for Harvey, with his slight frame. Loading up on pitching also left the Orioles very thin on positional talent. If Bundy and Harvey do not pan out, it will hurt the Orioles two-fold. When you neglect one area of your farm system in favor of another, you cannot afford to see picks go wasted.
These injury struggles also hurt the Orioles in another, more short-term way. Last year the Orioles were able to trade Eduardo Rodriguez for Andrew Miller. Only time will tell whether trading an entire career of Rodriguez for two months of Miller was a bad idea, hindsight being 20-20, of course. With their top two prospects injured, and the system very thin in the hitter department, the Orioles are unofficially out of the running for any big name starting pitching, something desperately needed as the Orioles try to make a second consecutive playoff appearance for the first time since 1997. It may also prove difficult for the Orioles to pull a minor move like the Miller trade because of the uncertainty surrounding Bundy and Harvey.
There may be trade value in Tyler Wilson, Mike Wright, or Mychal Givens — three pitchers who have all seen time with the Orioles this season. Wilson and Wright may need to figure more prominently in the Orioles’ plans beyond this season if there is no progress made by the more highly rated prospects. It is hard to see the Orioles being willing to pull the trigger on a deal that ships out any of these three given the level of unknown with Bundy and Harvey.
Then, there is the impending free agency of Chen to consider. Chen is having the best season of his career, and will not come cheap. It becomes that much more difficult to allow Chen to walk with a cloudy future for Bundy and Harvey. Tillman and Gonzalez are serviceable arms, but one or both of them could have been replaced by a healthy Bundy or Harvey.
Injuries to top prospects are unavoidable, but for the Orioles it sadly appears to be a trend, at least when it comes to Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey. It will never be fully understood whether rushing Bundy to the big leagues in 2012 led to his demise. Maybe it did, or maybe he was just a ticking time bomb. At 6′-4″ and 175 pounds, Harvey may not be suited for the rigors of starting pitching at the professional level. That too, remains to be seen. These injuries hurt the Orioles’ long-term plan, but the ripple effects also have an impact in the here and now. The Orioles have no real trade chips to get the starting pitcher they so desperately need to stay in contention. They could also be hamstrung into overpaying for Chen. There are no real impact bats waiting in the minors to help what has been an anemic offense.
The injuries to Bundy and Harvey seem bad on the surface, and they are. Go beneath the surface, however, and the influence of these injuries may continue to haunt the Orioles for years to come. Bundy and Harvey, drafted just two years apart, will always be linked inextricably in Baltimore Orioles history. Let’s just hope that history comes at the Major League level.