As the opening of a new baseball season gets closer by the day, the end of prospects ranking season is just about here.
At a time when many publications produce their top 100 prospects list, the Baseball America list is still the granddaddy of them all - and still very respected.
Published for the first time in 1990 when Steve Avery was the No. 1 prospect in the sport, Baseball America’s 25th anniversary list was released Thursday night, with the top 50 presented during a live telecast on MLB Network. By the way, the Orioles Ben McDonald was the publication’s No. 2 prospect in that first year.’
Two Orioles prospects were on the list this time and both were ranked lower by Baseball America than other outlets. Right-hander Dylan Bundy was No. 48, a big fall from his No. 15 ranking on this list last year. Right-hander Hunter Harvey was No. 68 after being unranked last year.
Bundy’s drop was directly related to his comeback from Tommy John surgery performed on June 27, 2013. He returned to pitch last summer, but compiled just 41 1/3 innings between short-season Single-A Aberdeen and Single-A Frederick. His full velocity and the quality and command of his secondary pitches were not all the way back by year’s end. A lat strain cost Bundy his last four or five starts last summer.
Baseball America editor John Manuel said he had some concerns about the rate at which Bundy’s stuff was returning.
“He missed so much time and the Tommy John is a huge factor there for us,” Manuel said. “There are some concerns that the stuff wasn’t ... it wasn’t a full-on recovery.
“Comparing him and a guy like a (Lucas) Giolito, Giolito was further removed from his surgery, not by much, but had livelier stuff with a stronger return. We did slide Dylan down the list.”
I asked Manuel if there are concerns about Bundy coming back all the way and pitching the way he did in 2012, before his surgery.
“I think so, it’s not automatic, not a given,” Manuel said. “Tommy John surgery has a strong track record, but it’s not foolproof. Doesn’t mean the stuff won’t come back, but really when are we going to get the full Dylan Bundy? When are we going to know what we’ve got? I don’t think we know what we have yet. There is a little uncertainty and a little doubt.
“There is no right answer. These are informed opinions and you do the best you can when ranking prospects. Try to have as much good information as you can, but people do love rankings.”
Manuel also talked about how Baseball America ranked the 20-year-old Harvey, who went 7-5 with a 3.18 ERA over 87 2/3 innings last year for Single-A Delmarva. He was shut down in late July due to a flexor mass muscle strain, but surgery was not needed.
“I’m sure (ESPN’s) Keith Law and Baseball Prospectus have their reasons for ranking Hunter Harvey as high as they do,” Manuel said. “We love the arm and the raw stuff, with the emphasis on raw there. Hasn’t thrown 100 innings in a season and that forearm stiffness, it’s not a red flag, but it is a concern. To be a starter in the majors you have to have the durability to take the ball every five days 30 times a year and he hasn’t done that yet.”
Both Bundy, who is on the Orioles’ 40-man roster, and Harvey, who is not, are now with the Orioles in big league camp in Sarasota, Fla.
The Orioles have high hopes and expectations for both pitchers but Manuel stands behind his publication’s ranking of the pair, even though it is lower than most other outlets.
“I think skepticism is very justified in both cases,” he said.
Where Bundy has been ranked:
* No. 8 by Baseball Prospectus
* No. 20 by MLBPipeline.com
* No. 22 by FanGraphs
* No. 26 by ESPN.com
* No. 48 by Baseball America
Where Harvey has been ranked:
* No. 16 by ESPN.com
* No. 20 by Baseball Prospectus
* No. 36 by FanGraphs
* No. 41 by MLBPipeline.com
* No. 68 by Baseball America
My take: I do think that ranking for Bundy is on the low side. I say that with all due respect to the editors at Baseball America, who are the best at the prospect business, in my opinion.
We should point out that the O’s brass seems quite pleased with Bundy’s progress and they pointed out to me several times last year that he has not had a single setback.
Bundy pitched to an ERA of 1.23 over his last three Frederick starts last summer and touched 96 mph in what turned out to be his last start, when he went 4 1/3 scoreless innings Aug. 5 against Carolina with no walks and seven strikeouts.
That was Bundy’s best start of last summer and we may have seen him do that four or five more times before the year ended but a lat strain (which was unrelated to the Tommy John surgery) ended his season. He is long since fully recovered from that. Had Bundy made those four or five more starts, maybe he would have showed more and been rated higher on this list.
But I do expect to see Bundy pitching at some point during the 2015 season at the same high level as he did in 2012, when he was dominant at times. I think he has a good chance to make it back to the majors, most likely in the second half, this summer.
I understand the skepticism here about both Bundy and Harvey, however. They are going to have to prove both that they are healthy and can pitch at the level that makes them the prospects they are.
I expect to see just that from both during the season ahead.
As a final note, I was told that no O’s players came close to making that top 100 besides Bundy and Harvey. Both catcher Chance Sisco and first baseman Christian Walker would have fallen somewhere in the 160-170 range had Baseball America rated that many players.