The Orioles are optimistic about their chances in 2016, especially if they complete deals with starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo and outfielder Dexter Fowler as many anticipate.
But there’s no avoiding concern when you take a peek toward the future. It’s no secret that Baltimore’s farm system ranks among the worst in baseball in the eyes of multiple publications, and they now appear on the verge of forfeiting their top two choices in the 2016 amateur draft. Instead of having up to eight picks in the first 91 slots as it appeared possible at the start of the offseason, the Orioles will have four — none in the top 50 — if both Gallardo and Fowler agree to play at Camden Yards this summer.
In looking at the farm system, we once again come back to the health of pitching prospects Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey, who both took part in the first official workout of the spring on Friday. Injuries have derailed their promising futures, but the Orioles are expressing optimism that each pitcher is finally back on track.
With Bundy, the future is now since he enters the spring out of minor-league options. After finally appearing to be past the effects of his 2013 Tommy John surgery, the 23-year-old was limited to just 22 professional innings last year before being shut down with a sore right shoulder. He was shut down again in the Arizona Fall League with right forearm tightness, but that was deemed to be minor and he’s working without any restrictions at the start of the spring.
“He’s as good right now as I’ve seen him since he’s been with the Orioles,” director of player development Brian Graham said Thursday on MLB Network. “I think health is the major factor. He’s throwing the ball well. He looks good. He’s got a smile on his face. He’s healthy. This is a different guy right now.
“Dylan Bundy’s ready to finally be healthy and be the kind of guy that we always expected.”
The only problem is that Bundy is far from a finished product with just 38 2/3 innings above the Single-A level under his belt, and he will now be relegated to bullpen duty in the majors as a pseudo-Rule 5 pick without the benefit of being able to send him to the minors at the end of the season. Even if he remains healthy — a major question until he proves otherwise — how will a bullpen role impact his development?
You can’t help but wonder if Bundy has already reached the point of no return, at least as it relates to visions of him being the future ace in Baltimore. If effective in short relief or as a long man, the 2011 first-round pick will still have a difficult time building up innings to the point where he can be relied on as a full-time starter in the near future.
Of course, the Orioles would just like to see him healthy enough to pitch in any capacity for a full season before they start worrying about what might come next.
Meanwhile, the 21-year-old Harvey says his forearm and elbow are healthy after he’s been shut down with a strained right flexor mass in each of the last two years. The 2013 first-round pick saw his stock skyrocket with a 3.18 ERA as a 19-year-old at Single-A Delmarva in 2014 before he was shut down in late July of that season.
He hasn’t pitched in a professional regular-season game since then, but Harvey told reporters in Sarasota on Friday that he has been throwing since December and is fully cleared for spring training as a non-roster invitee. He will likely begin the 2016 season at either Delmarva or Single-A Frederick.
“All the medical reviews and the MRIs and everything he’s gone through, they say he’s 100 percent healthy,” Graham said. “If Hunter has the ability to stay healthy and pitch the way he’s capable of, he has a chance to be special. I think sometimes he might be glossed over just a little bit, and people don’t quite realize how good he is.”
At this point, the Orioles and their fans are in wait-and-see mode when it comes to both young pitchers. A clean bill of health at the start of spring training isn’t the same as being healthy in late March and in early June and for an entire season, but it’s a start.
No news is good news as it relates to the health of Bundy and Harvey, and such a development would be a much-needed shot in the arm for the Orioles’ pitching future.
No pun intended.