Dylan Bundy: Too Good for A-Ball

Last week, I missed out on Dylan Bundy’s pro debut, as I just couldn’t make the two-hour drive to Asheville work with my schedule. But, tonight, Bundy was even closer, pitching just over an hour away in Kannapolis, and I wasn’t going to miss him twice in a span of six days. So, I jumped on I-85 and took in a game with the other 100 or so people who decided to brave the sudden cold front that rolled into NC today.

It took me about an hour to get there. Due to his three-inning limit, Bundy was only in the game for about 30 minutes, and he was actually on the mound for less than 10. It was still well worth the drive.

In the first inning, Bundy just showed off his fastball. Inside, outside, up, down, sitting consistently in the mid-90s, he went strikeout/broken bat ground out/pop fly to right. I wasn’t charting, but I’d imagine the whole inning was roughly 10 pitches – each of them an impressive fastball that was impeccably located.

During his between innings warmup, he tossed a couple of curves that showed late biting action, and I looked forward to seeing him use it in the second. He didn’t need to.

More mid-90s fastballs generated a weak ground ball to first, and then he mixed in an 87 MPH change-up that was the best change I’ve seen in a minor league game since I saw Cole Hamels in the South Atlantic League in 2003. Both in terms of movement and location, it was a Major League change-up, and the non-Major League hitter waved embarrassingly at it. He then finished him off with another high fastball.

Again, we saw a nice breaking ball during warmups, and this time, Bundy actually broke it out in the inning. After going fastball-fastball-fastball for three consecutive swinging strikes to send poor Dusty Harvard back to the bench a broken man, Bundy broke off consecutive curves that froze Mark Haddow and left him wondering what just happened. He then went fastball-fastball-fastball again to strike out the side.

Out of the ~35 (this is a rough estimate) pitches he threw, I saw two that I thought missed their spots. Not a single batter pulled the ball all night. The best contact made the entire evening were foul balls off behind the first base dugout, and even those were just “please God let the bat hit the ball” type of swings. The last five batters Bundy faced had about as much of a chance up there as I would have. They couldn’t even make contact, much less try and actually get a hit off of him.

I’ve seen some really good performances in the minors. This topped them all. This was a man-versus-boy scenario. It took about 15 pitches to realize that Bundy does not belong in Delmarva. He probably doesn’t even belong in A-ball.

Plus command of a moving fastball, a Major League change-up, and a buckling curve – this is a guy who simply isn’t going to be challenged by teenage hitters. This is a guy who is going to mow through inexperienced hitters who don’t know how to lay off his high fastballs and force him to pitch from behind in the count. As long as the Orioles leave him in A-ball, he’s just getting his work in. He might as well be throwing simulated games. If they want to him to actually have to pitch out of jams, they’ll need to move him to Double-A. At least.

There is still a lot we don’t know about Bundy. We haven’t seen him face any professional hitter for a second time. He’s never thrown a pitch in the minors with a man on base. We don’t know how well he can hold his stuff as his pitch count rises, or whether he has the confidence to throw his off-speed stuff for strikes when he’s behind in the count. It’s easy to get carried away with the ridiculous dominance and the premium stuff, and that’s where talk about having him end the season in Baltimore comes from. When you watch him throw, it’s not hard to think he hold his own in the big leagues right now. But, there’s still a lot for him to learn in the minors.

He just won’t learn any of it in A-ball. If the Orioles want to keep his workload down and bring him along slowly, that’s their call, but based on ability and readiness for the challenge, he probably should get promoted to Double-A tomorrow. As long as he’s in either Delmarva or even Frederick, he’s just going to be a man amongst boys.

Maybe the Orioles know he needed a confidence boost to start the year. Maybe they just wanted to try and slow down the hype machine by stashing him far enough away from the Majors that they won’t have to consider calling him up if he succeeds. Maybe a lot of things. But after three innings tonight, I’m fairly confident that Bundy’s time in Delmarva is going to be short lived. He’s supposed to take the hill in Greensboro next week – and if he does, I may very well head out there for an encore – but I’m not sure he needs to make another start in this league.

He just doesn’t belong there. The Orioles can put him on whatever path to the Majors they choose, but the reality might just be that he’s going to force them to move him far quicker than anyone had imagined.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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10 years ago

Excuse my total lack of realism and utter overestimation, but I bet Bundy could hit on days he doesn’t pitch and post a higher WAR than Andino, Reynolds and Chris Davis. He’s gifted.

Even if not, it sounds like he’s going to be some unique kind of force.