Having combined to throw a grand total of 22.0 innings last season, Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey leave the Baltimore Orioles with way more questions than answers. Yes, both reported to the team’s January mini-camp in Florida with supposed clean bills of health. Elbow and shoulder injuries have plagued Bundy since the end of the 2012 season. At one point last season, it appeared Tommy John was in Harvey’s future.
Both young right-handers, drafted out of high school, have obvious potential and have been very good when they can actually take the mound. Whether that potential can be realized is still up in the air. Bundy was a top-10 prospect in all of baseball at one point, but now does not even warrant mention in the top-100. Harvey was a top-50 prospect after his solid (but also injury-plagued) 2014 season. After missing the entire 2015 season, Harvey now checks in at number 85 on the preseason prospect list from MLB.
Bundy is now 23 and out of options. He must spend the 2016 season on the 25-man roster or risk being exposed to waivers. Bundy was one of the final high school draft picks in the 2011 draft to receive a major-league contract. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and Bundy was pitching for the Orioles at the end of the 2012 season. Now, over three years later, he will be relegated to some sort of bullpen role. If the Orioles struggle, he may be thrown to the wolves and given a few starts at the end of the year. Harvey just seems like a ticking time bomb at 6’3″ and 175 pounds. He will have to be handled with kid gloves at the Single-A level this year.
Since drafting Mike Mussina in the first round of the 1990 draft, the Orioles have had little to no luck drafting and developing first-round pitchers. Kevin Gausman is their only pick who could be considered a success to this point, and he still struggles to command a breaking ball and changeup. Brian Matusz was a top-10 prospect after being drafted fourth overall in 2008. He’s now a LOOGY after going 1-9 with a 10.69 ERA in 2011. Adam Loewen…ouch. Beau Hale? Apparently not the next Roger Clemens.
This is why we can’t have nice things.
Years of inept drafting have left the Orioles with a cobbled-together starting rotation that must out-pitch its peripherals every year to be successful. The 2015 season showed what happens when pitchers of that ilk are slightly banged up. Even being a shade below optimal health turns Chris Tillman into a barely sub-5.00 ERA pitcher instead of a sub-4.00 ERA pitcher. Same goes for Miguel Gonzalez. The Orioles starters have mostly defied the odds over the three years leading into the 2015 season, but could not keep the streak going. The result — an 81-81 season that ended short of the playoffs.
Naturally, the fanbase hopes for a big upgrade to the one big area of need in the offseason, but it’s not that easy. When free agents like David Price and Zack Greinke hit the market, the team can only dream. The Orioles are also not the type of team that can spend $80 million on a mid-tier arm. The uncertainty with Bundy and Harvey further complicates things for the Orioles.
The Orioles clearly need to make an addition to their starting rotation. Re-signing Wei-Yin Chen to a long-term deal is not in the franchise’s playbook. (Sidenote: How is signing a left-handed starting pitcher who was the best pitcher on last year’s mediocre staff to a deal that includes an opt-out after two years not a better investment than seven years and $161 million for a strikeout-prone, three-true-outcome first baseman? Sigh. Rant over.) There is still one notable free-agent starter on the market in Yovani Gallardo who would be an immediate upgrade over the amalgamation of Vance Worley/Tyler Wilson/Mike Wright/Odrisamer Despaigne that will likely occupy the fifth slot in the rotation. The Orioles have the money to spend, something that was made clear by the fact that a five-year offer to Yoenis Cespedes was still on the table even after Chris Davis re-signed. If the Orioles want Gallardo, they can have him. He’s literally just hanging out waiting for someone to decide he is in fact worth giving up a draft pick for.
That brings us back to Bundy and Harvey. Signing Gallardo would force the Orioles to forfeit their first-round pick. At number-14 overall, the Orioles actually stand a chance of drafting a player that can have an almost immediate impact if used properly (obviously a big, big if). That pick is much easier to give up if two pitchers who could have been in the big-league rotation by now were actually in the rotation. Instead, Bundy and Harvey have scarcely pitched in two years and the Orioles have to keep searching for answers. With no guarantees that either pitcher will ever have an impact at the big-league level, the Orioles cannot afford to go a year without a first round pick. There is an incoming pick for the loss of Chen, but it is not as valuable as the 14th selection. If Bundy was already in the rotation as expected, and Harvey was knocking on the door as expected, sacrificing that pick to sign Gallardo could possibly be justified.
Going a bit further, there are also still a handful of mid-tier starting pitchers and corner outfielders on the trade block. Andrew Cashner is a name the Orioles have been linked to in recent days. Tyler Wilson or Mike Wright could possibly be viewed as useful trade chips, but in reality, they cannot be traded because they are in the rotation conversation due to the injuries to the top two pitching prospects. Even Kevin Gausman could have been used as a chip to acquire an elite outfielder like Carlos Gonzalez if the Orioles knew what they were getting from Bundy and Harvey.
Drafting, projecting, developing, and protecting the arms of young high school pitchers is perhaps the hardest thing to do in professional sports. Drafting a quarterback can be difficult, but only if you play in Cleveland or Oakland. All the signs pointed to Dylan Bundy being a freak of nature, but even freaks of nature are subject to the same principles of stress and strain caused by the continuous loading and unloading caused by the repeated act of throwing a baseball. Harvey is the son of a former big leaguer, Bryan Harvey, who once led the American League in saves. No one thought Bundy or Harvey would get injured, and the Orioles staked their future on a pair of 18-year-olds.
Mortgaging the farm system’s future on high school pitchers could have gone one of two ways. Unfortunately, both have gone in the wrong direction for now. Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey could indeed prove themselves fully healthy this year, but for now, their cloudy futures will continue to impact the Orioles beyond their physical presence on the mound.