Baltimore Orioles pitcher Dylan Bundy in an intrasquad game… (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore…)
Right now, top Orioles pitching prospect Dylan Bundy is in the middle of a perfect game.
He has pitched six real-time professional innings, retired 18 consecutive batters and struck out 12 of them.
Never mind that he has done it over two three-inning appearances for the Single-A Delmarva Shorebirds, this is some otherworldly stuff and it has already sparked a debate both inside and outside the Orioles organization about the right way to handle one of the best young pitchers to pass this way in a generation.
Bundy is 19 going on 25, if you listen to the people who got to know him during spring training, but he's just out of high school and the Orioles are trying to avoid all the mistakes that have been made with their best young pitchers of the past and, for that matter, the mistakes a lot of other organizations have made, too.
So, he has started out at Delmarva, where pretty much everybody knew he would rock the Eastern Shore like it only rocks during spring break. The guy had the Boston Red Sox doing a double-take in spring training, so what exactly did you expect when he came out of major league spring training and started picking on guys his own size?
Orioles fans, of course, are hoping that he'll take the fast track to Camden Yards and make his major league debut some time this season, and they've got a well-respected advocate in the television broadcast booth. Jim Palmer said after Bundy's first minor league outing that he might be ready to pitch in the major leagues by late summer.
"I said I wouldn't be surprised if he was in the big leagues before the end of the year,'' Palmer said. "That's only because of what I saw in his ability. I think he's going to work his way right to the big leagues, but there are other circumstances that may change that. I also said I wasn't the general manager, but stuffwise, commandwise, wind-up-wise, preparationwise, I wouldn't think he would have a problem pitching in the major leagues."
Orioles baseball operations chief Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter won't entirely rule that out, but the plan appears to be a bit more conservative. Bundy probably will pitch a few more times in Delmarva and then move over to Class-A Frederick. If all goes well, he could be at Bowie later this season and return to spring training next year with a chance to make the major league rotation.
The reason that he has been held to three innings in each of his first two pro appearances is because the club has a specific number of innings in mind for him this year and doesn't want him to reach his innings limit in late July or August.
"Our thought with him was how important it is for him to pitch the length of the season,'' Showalter said. "Remember how we shut down Zach (Britton) a little bit last year so he could pitch in September? It's important for those guys to pitch all parts of the year. One of the biggest adjustments guys make — high school or college — is the length of the season.
"So, instead of letting him pitch like a normal pitcher and having to shut him down the first week in August because his stuff should allow him to go deep into games, we'd rather shorten up his outing and have him pitch all the way through the end of the minor league season."
There are other considerations, of course — the same ones that came up with Matt Wieters and some of the club's other top prospects. Why bring the kid up and waste valuable major league service time at the end of a season in which the Orioles , presumably, won't be in the pennant race? Why not wait until a month or two into the 2013 season and stretch the six years he is bound to the club to almost seven?
Duquette said it's more a matter of protecting his valuable arm and making sure he's completely ready to pitch at this level. He doesn't dispute Bundy's tremendous ability, but points out that a lot has changed since Palmer was rushed to the big leagues in the 1960s.
"There's a little more done today to track and monitor workload,'' Duquette said, "so that might have more bearing on the situation. But there are still some situations where a young pitcher needs to learn to repeat his delivery, pitch with his fastball and develop his secondary pitches.
"He's working at it. He believes he's a big-league pitcher. Even though Palmer went to the big leagues at 19, he had a year or two of pro experience."
Maybe the current rotation will be healthy and productive enough that the subject won't even come up. That would certainly be a nice problem to have, but don't imagine for a minute that Showalter and Duquette haven't considered the possibility of accelerating Bundy's trip through the player development pipeline.
"I would never say never," Duquette said, "but the important thing for him at this stage is to get acclimated to pro baseball. He's going to need all those skills to be a successful big leaguer."