Whenever ESPN’s Keith Law speaks, it seems, the Orioles fans listen. He got them stirred up when he criticized the team’s signing of Vlad Guerrero before last year at a time when many fans were excited over the addition.
But while Law now looked right with that opinion, he spoke again on the Orioles this week and I think he took a huge swing and a miss. The topic was pitcher Dylan Bundy, the Orioles’ 2011 first-round draft pick.
Bundy has pitched nine hitless and scoreless innings with 15 strikeouts over his first three outings for the Single-A Delmarva Shorebirds. On a podcast this week, Law was critical of the Orioles handling of the 19-year-old right hander.
“Dylan Bundy should have started his professional career in Double-A,” Law said. “That is a mistake by the Orioles, only being compounded by the fact that they are leaving him in Low-A, two levels lower than he should be and they are not stretching him out. He’s going three innings, that is not a starter’s workload. He should be turning over minor league lineups twice. They are really babying him. I think they have dug a hole for themselves because of where they chose to start him and how little they are using him.”
There is so much I disagree with in those comments I almost don’t know where to start. It seems to me that Law just hasn’t done his homework here. The Orioles are certainly not limiting Bundy to three innings forever and he will soon be pitching five innings and they plan to turn him loose late in the year to go even deeper into games.
The Orioles are working off a plan where the kid will throw 120-130 innings this season. Between high school ball and fall instructional league, he threw around 88-90 innings in 2011. Almost no young pitchers get bumped up much more than 30 innings over their previous season.
Based on a few conversations I have had, the plan for Bundy seems to go along these lines:
* Three starts at three innings, for a total of nine.
* Three starts at four innings, for a total of 12.
* Around 10 starts at five innings, for a total of 50.
* That leaves around 50-60 innings for his last eight or so starts beginning around mid July.
It is just smart to have Bundy pitching his most innings later in the year when he presumably will be facing tougher competition at higher levels. Plus this plan allows for him to pitch through the whole season and not be shut down early. Sure the Orioles could have started him out pitching five innings each outing, but they would have had to shut him down before the season ended.
The other factor at work here now is how the Orioles are working with Bundy to improve his changeup. His fastball and curveball are currently considered plus-plus pitches by scouts. The changeup is the one that needs work to someday help him get big league hitters out. We know the kid can get out hitters in the South Atlantic League now on just his fastball.
The Orioles seem to have no problem with Bundy pitching in low Single-A now and he may make several more starts there. He is getting acclimated to the pro game, the bus rides, new teammates and many other things away from the field. To me, letting him settle in to his surroundings and ease into the games makes sense.
He is pitching in a six-man rotation with Delmarva that also allows for two bullpen sessions between starts where he can work with the coaches to continue his progress and development.
How to handle this elite young talent has been much discussed and debated among the O’s top brass. They want to do the right thing and make the right decisions.
People like Dan Duquette, Buck Showalter, Rick Adair, John Stockstill and Rick Peterson have been involved in developing young talent before. This isn’t their first rodeo. Law certainly knows there is no one right answer in how to develop a pitching prospect. He knows this but ignores it for some reason.
Big league pitchers that have the most success usually do so because they can locate pitches, have good movement and can change speeds well. Raw, top-end fastball velocity for those that have it can be impressive on the stadium radar gun but won’t solely get the job done. The Orioles are in the early stages of developing a pitcher they hope will have all the above and not just be someone that might throw the next pitch at 100 mph.
It sounds to me like Bundy is likely to spend at least his next three outings at Delmarva. As he continues to work on and improve things like his command and secondary pitches, they can and likely will move him up the ladder.
How far can he go? Depends who you talk to. Double-A seems within reach this year and it doesn’t appear that anything even beyond that has been totally ruled out.
The plan for Bundy seems totally sound and logical to me and the kid himself seems very in favor of what is in store for him this year.
That is all completely fine with me, but it seems not everyone with a podcast agrees.