Do the Orioles have a hidden pitching gem at Aberdeen?

Tom Winegardner was not selected by any team in the 2011 draft, but the Orioles signed him as a middle infielder after the draft. He went to the rookie-level Gulf Coast League and short-season Single-A Aberdeen and combined to hit .188 in 45 games.

This year, the 22-year-old Winegardner was batting .174 in 28 games with Single-A Delmarva and .207 in eight games at Aberdeen. It was pretty clear that he was going to have a hard time making it as an infielder with such a low batting average.

But the Orioles knew Winegardner had pitched in college and at Riverdale Baptist High in Upper Marlboro. He always had a strong arm and now that arm is being used on the mound at Aberdeen.

After he had thrown a few bullpens, Winegardner took the mound on July 22 against Hudson Valley, a Tampa Bay Rays farm club. He went through the top of their order, getting out some good prospects, two on strikeouts. The next night he got a save against Brooklyn.

Over his first five innings as a pitcher with Aberdeen, he gave up no runs on just two hits, walked one with six strikeouts. He showed a fastball that was between 90 and 94 mph.

He was finally scored on when he gave up two runs (one earned) in two-thirds of an inning on Wednesday. But over five games, Winegardner is now 2-1 with one save and a 1.59 ERA.

Orioles director of pitching development Rick Peterson said the early returns on Winegardner are quite good.

“Just rave reviews,” Peterson said. “Not only about his stuff, but his competitive intelligence as a pitcher. He’s not just getting an inning or two here and there, but he’s closing out games. We’re looking at him as a potential pitcher.

“The plan is to bring him to instructional league (starting Sept. 12) and see where we are and also to get his feedback on what he feels about this.

“(Aberdeen pitching coach) Alan Mills has given him rave reviews and has talked very highly of the makings of his secondary stuff as well. He’s competing and he’s coming in and pitching exceptionally well and closing out games. For him to perform like that is impressive.”

Dean Albany is the Orioles scout that signed Winegardner. He had a feeling that while he began as an infielder, he could eventually find his way to the mound.

“I’ve known him since the kid was 12,” Albany said. “He’s been a big-time player in the Baltimore metro area for a long time as a switch-hitting shortstop who also pitched and always had a real good arm.

“When we signed him, I said at that time if he struggles at bat maybe we could put him on the mound. He’s had more success as an amateur as a pitcher.”

Needing some middle-infield depth last year for its lower minors, Winegardner was signed to play infield, but now it appears his true future in the game is as a pitcher.

Albany said Winegardner prefers to be an everyday player and had to be somewhat convinced that converting to pitcher was best for his career.

“Because of the baseball rat Tommy is, he loves playing the game, you’re going to have to tear the uniform off his back,” Albany said. “He always wanted to be on the field seven days a week, not just once in a while on the mound. He’s a gamer, he just loves to play and has since he was little. He loves to compete.

“He’s always going to think he can hit. We’re not going to change his tune on that. But for him to stay in the organization and have a chance to be promoted and to have any outside shot of ever being on a big league club, it’s going to have to be on the mound. This is his best shot to advance in baseball.”

No one is calling Winegardner one of the O’s top pitching prospects yet, but 90-94 mph is good velocity and there sure seems to be something to work with here. It will be interesting to see if he can progress and move up the minor league ladder on the mound now.

Bobby Bundy update: Right-hander Bobby Bundy underwent surgery on Tuesday to shave down a bone spur in his right elbow. Dr. Jeffrey Angel of Batesville, Ark. performed the procedure which will keep Bundy out the rest of the year.

Peterson said the procedure was a success and Bundy should be fine to start the 2013 season.

“The reports from the medical team were that the surgery went exceptionally well,” Peterson said. “The bone spur was bothering him from the beginning of the year and we had to manage that. Bobby is such a tough young man and it was probably bothering him a lot more than he alluded to and I think it was really a relief for him to get this done. But typically, if those surgeries go well, yeah, he should be fine by spring training.”

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