Breaking Down How MLB's Top Pitching Prospect Dylan Bundy Could Impact AL Race

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Breaking Down How MLB's Top Pitching Prospect Dylan Bundy Could Impact AL Race
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

I can't say I'm privy to any sort of inside information, but I can't help but imagine that the Baltimore Orioles' motto this season is "YOLO."

We've already seen the Orioles turn to 20-year-old super-prospect Manny Machado to bolster their chances of making the postseason for the first time since 1997. That decision has panned out pretty well, as Machado has a decent .708 OPS and he's taken to third base better than anybody expected. The O's have won 24 of the 37 games in which Machado has played. 

The O's decided early Wednesday morning to go back to the well for another one of their top prospects. As reported by Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com, the O's have given 19-year-old pitching prospect Dylan Bundy the call to the majors. He joins the big club with just two weeks to go in the 2012 regular season.

It was just a couple months ago that Baseball America ranked Bundy as the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball. He made good on that ranking by finishing the season with a 9-3 record and a 2.08 ERA in his first full professional season. He held hitters to a .186 batting average and struck out 119 in 103.2 innings pitched in the minors.

Meanwhile, it was just a couple weeks ago that the Orioles were insisting that Bundy would not be called up, but 18-inning marathon games in which a team has to use seven different relief pitchers have a way of changing things. The Orioles played one of those against the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, and it effectively forced them into calling Bundy up to the majors.

Now that he's here, what can fans expect to see? How will Bundy be used? What sort of impact will he have?

Let's discuss, shall we?

 

Option One: Small-Time Relief Duty

It would be wise not to get too excited about Bundy's call-up. The Orioles are calling him up basically out of desperation, not because they plan to ride Bundy to the finish line.

In his report, Rosenthal noted that Bundy is ticketed for Baltimore's bullpen, where he "likely will fill a limited role."

This is not to say that Bundy will be used in emergencies only, mind you. Given how many innings Baltimore's bullpen had to cover against the Mariners in the team's 18-inning marathon, it wouldn't be a huge shock if Bundy made his debut as soon as Wednesday night.

Furthermore, Buck Showalter probably won't hesitate to go to Bundy again and again after he does make his debut. Remember, Baltimore's bullpen has logged over 500 innings this season. It's one of only four bullpens to cross the 500-inning plateau so far this season, according to FanGraphs.

The fact that Bundy is a starting pitcher by trade may lead you to believe that he could be used primarily as a long man, and I wouldn't rule that possibility out completely. However, keep in mind that we're talking about a 19-year-old who pitched over 100 innings in the minors this season, and several more in the instructional league. Using Bundy as a long man at this juncture could push his innings count farther than the O's would prefer.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Bundy didn't allow a single earned run at Single-A Delmarva this year.

The O's haven't come out and put a specific cap on the amount of innings they want Bundy to pitch this year, but Peter Schmuck of The Baltimore Sun noted that the Orioles teased a limit of 130 innings way back in spring training. If you count up all the innings Bundy has pitched this season, he's at 109.2.

That leaves the O's with roughly 20 innings to play with between now and the end of the season, and that's certainly a lot for a reliever in a span of just two weeks. However, the Orioles may have already slotted Bundy into their plans for the postseason. They need to make sure he has some innings set aside for October if the O's make it there.

So my best guess is that Bundy will be limited to one or two innings at a time and that the Orioles will be pretty strict about not pushing him too far. He's only 19, after all, and the O's know as well as anyone that Bundy's future with the team consists of way more than just the next two weeks.

As such, they need to be careful with Bundy's confidence as well. The smart money is on him working low-pressure innings such as the sixth and seventh rather than the eighth and ninth innings.

That said, none of us should rule out the possibility of the Orioles pushing the envelope just a little bit. 

 

Option Two: Primary Setup Man Duty

The Orioles aren't messing around when they go to their bullpen. They're 58-4 when they have a lead after six innings, 66-0 when they have a lead after seven innings and 68-1 when they have a lead after eight innings.

Jim Johnson has done his part. Baltimore's underrated closer picked up his 44th save against the Mariners in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. He's blown only three saves all season.

The bridge to Johnson has been strong for much of the season. Lately, however, it's starting to show some cracks.

Pedro Strop, who ranks seventh among AL relievers with 24 holds, has struggled lately. In his last 14 appearances, he has a 7.59 ERA and a .340 opponents' batting average, not to mention a pair of blown saves.

This is discouraging to say the least. Strop has been used almost exclusively in the eighth inning this season, and now he's sending Showalter signals that a new setup man is needed.

How about Bundy?

Watch for the curveball in this video clip (h/t CBSSports.com)

Though Bundy will be a starter down the road, he has all the familiar trappings of a shutdown reliever. His fastball has been known to reach as high as 100 miles per hour, and he has a Thor-like hammer of a curveball.

A good comparison for the kind of pitcher Bundy could be in the late innings is Adam Wainwright from the 2006 season. Wainwright had a 3.12 ERA and an 8.6 K/9 in 61 appearances that year, and he was absolutely dominant as the St. Louis Cardinals closer during their run to the World Series. He did it primarily using his killer fastball-curveball combination.

The Orioles will be gambling with Bundy's confidence if they choose to use him as a primary setup man for Johnson, as the last thing they want is to have Bundy get knocked around in high-pressure situations in the middle of a pennant race.

But on the flip-side, Bundy's confidence would go through the roof if he were able to handle such a job, and the Orioles would get to enjoy the added bonus of having found a new shutdown reliever to use in front of Johnson.

The Orioles rely on their bullpen more than any other contender in the American League, and right now, they're dealing with a less-than-ideal situation as it pertains to their late-inning relief corps. Rather than restricting him to long relief or low-pressure innings, Bundy is a tool they could use to patch up that hole.

That would be one way for the O's to amplify Bundy's impact. If they want to go for broke, they could raise the stakes even higher.

 

Option Three: Starting Duty

The Orioles have already used 12 different starting pitchers this season. Might they make it 13 by giving Bundy a start or two?

It doesn't sound like that's the plan for now. When Orioles GM Dan Duquette addressed the media on Wednesday, he made it clear that Bundy has been brought up to help out the bullpen, and that's it.

"We brought him up today to support the bullpen," Duquette told MASNsports.com. "Our immediate need is we made need some innings for tonight's game."

However, Duquette did clarify that the organization still views Bundy as a starter (duh), and he also said that how Bundy is used after Wednesday night will be up to Showalter.

"Buck will decide how he wants to utilize [Bundy's] skill," Duquette said. "He's worked hard to put himself in this position, there is a need and he's on the roster."

So, there's at least a chance that Bundy could start. If that's how Showalter wants to use him, he apparently has the freedom to go ahead and do so.

And wouldn't you know it, there's a rotation spot up for grabs if Showalter feels like using Bundy as a starter.

Rob Carr/Getty Images
It's up to you, Buck.

The word from the Sun is that the Orioles are hopeful that dependable right-hander Jason Hammel will be able to return from his latest right knee injury before the season is over, but his situation seems to be in a holding pattern.

Veteran left-hander Randy Wolf started in place of Hammel on Sunday, giving up two runs on six hits in four innings. The Orioles managed to beat the Oakland A's on Sunday, but it wasn't because Wolf shut the A's down.

If Showalter would rather not hand the ball to Wolf again, he could always hand it to Bundy. That may not be the plan for now, but the Orioles have demonstrated once again in calling Bundy up in the first place that their plans are never really set in stone.

If Showalter does give Bundy a start, then he'll be using Bundy not unlike Joe Maddon used Matt Moore last year. Moore made two relief appearances upon being called up, and he was then given a spot start against the Yankees on September 22. He went on to strike out 11 in five scoreless innings.

Moore, of course, then started Game 1 of the ALDS for the Rays, pitching seven scoreless innings against the Rangers in Arlington.

Moore had logged over 150 innings in the minors before he got the call to the majors last September. He logged 123 innings in his first full year as a starter in 2009, a little over 13 innings more than Bundy has logged to this point in 2012.

So maybe, just maybe, the O's will decide to start Bundy after seeing what he can do out of the bullpen. They wouldn't be doing anything unprecedented. Starting him would also be one way for the Orioles to counter the re-emergence of Andy Pettitte, who looked very sharp in his first start off the DL on Wednesday.

They'd be rolling the dice, to be sure. They'd be rushing the future of their franchise to the present, and they'd be putting an awful lot of responsibility in the lap of a 19-year-old. 

But hey, YOLO.

 

If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.

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