Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman provide hope for future rotations

At a time when the Orioles farm system gets plenty of criticism, the organization also may be heading into a near future with two first-round draft picks heading up its starting rotation. Perhaps for many years to come.

The Orioles drafted right-hander Dylan Bundy No. 4 overall out of Owassa (Okla.) High School in 2011. He was the last first-round pick by scouting director Joe Jordan. They selected Kevin Gausman, also No. 4 overall, in 2012 out of LSU. He was first top pick for current scouting director Gary Rajsich.

You may think the No. 4 pick should be a hit for any team. Well, the five pitchers drafted No. 4 before the O’s back-to-back duo were Brian Matusz, Daniel Moskos, Brad Lincoln, Jeff Niemann and Tim Stauffer. The last pitcher drafted No. 4 overall that has accumulated even 5.0 or more career Wins Above Replacement is Baltimorean Gavin Floyd. He was drafted by the Phillies in 2001.

So if the Bundy-Gausman duo continues to progress, it would be a coup for the organization to put two homegrown pitchers atop its rotation.

Gausman-Throws-Orange-Sidebar.jpgGausman, who will be 26 in three days, went 9-12 with a 3.61 ERA in 30 starts and 179 2/3 innings in 2016. But it was the second half where Gausman really elevated his pitching, going 8-6 with a 3.10 ERA. Between Aug. 23 and Sept. 14, Gausman pitched four scoreless starts in five games, going 4-0 with an ERA of 0.82. He pitched the Orioles to a victory in Game 162 at New York to get them into the playoffs. He led O’s starters in ERA, innings, WHIP, strikeouts per nine innings and walks per nine innings.

Gausman led the Orioles with 18 quality starts. But he was provided one run of support or less in 12 of his 30 starts. The Orioles scored just 2.73 runs per game over his starts in 2016.

Bundy, who turned 24 in November, was moved into the rotation in the second half and went 4-2 with a 2.76 ERA his first six starts. He allowed five runs in four of his last eight starts, going 4-3 with an ERA of 6.00 as he likely tired. But we saw enough evidence to see why Bundy was a top-rated prospect for years, even as he dealt with elbow surgery and shoulder issues.

Bundy picked up his first major league win on May 27 at Cleveland. From July 22 to Aug. 12, he ranked tied for first in wins (four) and fifth in strikeouts (32) among all major league pitchers. He pitched to a 1.84 ERA in that span. As a starter, he allowed a batting average against of just .231 and he fanned 9.0 per nine innings.

He became the 17th Orioles pitcher to record 10 wins in his rookie season. The last Oriole to accomplish the feat prior to Bundy was left-hander Wei-Yin Chen, with 12 wins in 2012.

If O’s fans truly dare to dream, will one of these pitchers turn into a legitimate ace? Will both? A year or two down the road, will pitchers like Hunter Harvey and Cody Sedlock join them in an all-homegrown rotation?

Nothing wrong with dreaming big. O’s fans have seen young pitchers show plenty of promise before only to be disappointed, so some of you may be cautiously optimistic about this pair.

But at least both already have major league success on their resumes. In Bundy’s case, it comes after just 167 innings on the farm and just 38 2/3 innings at Double-A, with zero innings at Triple-A. He was truly learning on the job last season. He handled it all great. Getting through the year healthy was huge.

Gausman showed some mental toughness to me in 2016 by continuing to pitch well without much run support. He didn’t even get his first win until his 13th start on June 25. He then overcame constant talk about his winless run of road starts. A stretch of 25 straight starts away from home without him getting a single win ended in August.

Gausman went 5-7 with a 3.31 ERA and 84 strikeouts in 15 starts with nine quality starts against American League East clubs. He has gone 10-13 with a 3.63 ERA and 15 quality starts in 36 career starts against the AL East.

No one could blame an Orioles fan for looking at Bundy and Gausman and being excited to see high draft picks that look good. Or hoping that the day is coming when they become great. Gausman is under team control through at least 2020 and Bundy through 2021. They could be heading up the club’s rotation for at least four more years together.

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