Dylan Bundy is one of the pitchers the Orioles hope will become… (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore…)
It should be cause for much joy in Birdland that 19-year-old Dylan Bundy just showed up at the top of Baseball America's midseason list of baseball's 50 top prospects, but that happy news comes at a moment in Orioles history when it's probably foolhardy to get overly excited about another can't-miss kid pitcher.
If you haven't actually said it out loud, this thought almost certainly has crossed your mind at one time or another as the glowing reports about Bundy's golden arm followed him from spring training through the first half of his first professional season:
How will the Orioles screw this one up?
The answer is that they probably won't, because Bundy is the real deal and the player development system is under new management, but it's hard not wonder after a week in which the two homegrown starting pitchers who were supposed to lead the Orioles into a brighter future headed back to the minor leagues with their own futures very much in doubt.
Bundy was supposed to be the cherry on top of the five-year plan to draft and develop a dominant rotation. Now, it's starting to look like he's the whole sundae …and he's still probably a year away.
The Orioles were banking on Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta to pop this season, but they melted down instead and now have to hope that minor league pitching guru Rick Peterson can refine their mechanics and rebuild their confidence and help them reach down into that well of still-untapped potential.
They were actually supposed to take that developmental leap last year. Matusz was coming off an impressive 2010 finish and Arrieta seemed to be coming along nicely after a decent rookie half-season. Then it all just kind of fell apart.
Matusz came up sore on the final day of spring training and the O's were forced to rush promising Zach Britton into the rotation. Arrieta won 10 games, but had to cut his season short to get a large bone spur removed from his elbow. Britton looked for a time like he might be the American League Rookie of the Year, but his shoulder came up sore in the second half and the inflammation resurfaced this spring.
Clearly, the "grow the arms" phase of the Orioles latest youth movement has run aground and Orioles fans should be grateful that new baseball operations chief Dan Duquette apparently saw it all coming. If he had not pulled off the trade for Jason Hammel and gone outside the box to sign Taiwanese pitcherWei-Yin Chen, you don't even want to think about what this surprisingly upbeat season would look like right now.
The Orioles still need more help to remain competitive in the AL East. They have gotten a couple of terrific spot starts from Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez during the current road trip. They're waiting to see Britton pitch efficiently enough at Triple-A to justify a return to the major league rotation. There have even been whispers of a deal to acquire 2009 Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke from the Milwaukee Brewers.
The deadline for making trades without passing players through waivers is still three weeks away, so Duquette and manager Buck Showalter have time to get a couple more looks at Tillman and Gonzalez, but they need to act decisively if they truly are trying to compete for a playoff berth this year. They are not going to stay in play in the AL East for three more months with a patchwork starting rotation.
It has been sad to watch the misfortune that has befallen Matusz, Arrieta and Britton over the past two years. They are talented pitchers who, hopefully, will get things figured out in the minor leagues and come back to re-establish themselves as quality major league starters.
There is some hope. Peterson seems to have worked some magic with Tillman, who was once very high on that Baseball America top prospect list but failed in each of the past three seasons to hold a place in the major league rotation. And Matusz threw a four-hit shutout on Friday night in Charlotte in his first minor league start since being sent back to Triple-A, though he'll need to string a few of those big performances together to convince the major league club that he has figured something out.
Maybe it will all fit back together at some point, but the Orioles can't afford to wait any longer for the cavalry to arrive. They are down to just two dependable starters and one very exciting minor league phenom who they can't afford to mess up.
Read Peter Schmuck's blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he hosts "The Week in Review" at noon Fridays on WBAL (1090AM) and at wbal.com.
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