Orioles fans have been waiting for an ace to call their own ever since Mike Mussina left after the 2000 season and signed with the division rival New York Yankees. They have tried and tried and tried again three more times through the draft with failed results every time. In fact, over the last 11 seasons since Mussina’s departure, they have selected a pitcher with their first-round pick six times, all of them top-eight picks. Four of them have yet to reach the major leagues.
In 2001, they chose Chris Smith with the seventh pick, a left-hander out of Cumberland University, an NAIA school in Tennessee. He had a career 6.12 ERA and 1.92 WHIP over four minor league seasons, never reaching the majors.
In 2002, they used the fourth-overall pick on Adam Loewen, another left-hander out of Fraser Valley Christian HS in Canada. Loewen made it to the majors, but went 8-8, with a 5.38 ERA and 1.64 WHIP over three years with the Orioles. He hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2008 and is now in the New York Mets organization. The O’s really missed on this draft as Zack Greinke went sixth-overall, Prince Fielder went seventh, Cole Hamels went 17 and Matt Cain went 25. That’s 218 combined wins to eight.
In 2004, they took Wade Townsend, a right-hander out of Rice, with the eighth-overall pick. He didn’t even sign with the team. He wasn’t that good anyway, as he was drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays the following year with the eighth-overall pick and had a 5.68 ERA and 1.59 WHIP over five minor league seasons.
They didn’t select another pitcher in the first round until 2008, when they used the fourth-overall pick on Brian Matusz, a 6’-5”, 200-pound left-hander out of the University of San Diego. He was one of the most dominant pitchers in college at the time, but it hasn’t translated to the majors as he has gone 16-23, with a 5.53 ERA and 1.51 WHIP over three seasons with the Orioles. His 2011 was really forgettable as he went 1-9, with a 10.69 ERA and 2.11 WHIP over 12 starts. He is just 25, however, so time is still on his side. And he did look good in spring training this year, posting a 3.65 ERA with 22 K/3 BB over 24.2 innings.
They selected yet one more high school pitcher in 2009. Matthew Hobgood, a right-hander out of Norco HS in California, was the fifth-overall pick by the Orioles. He looked completely lost at single-A Aberdeen last season, going 0-6, with a 10.46 ERA, 2.40 WHIP and 13 K/23 BB over 26.2 innings. He, too, is still just 21 years old, but those strikeout-to-walk ratios are hard to overlook. With top pitching prospects like Shelby Miller, Tyler Skaggs, James Paxton, and top hitting prospect Mike Trout, all selected after him, this may go down as one of their biggest misses ever.
All of that brings us to April 6, 2012. That was the day it all seems to have finally come to fruition. The story begins much earlier than that, but Orioles fans got a glimpse of what the future holds — a dominant ace. Their first legitimate one since the recent Hall of Fame inductee, “Moose” was roaming the mound. And as great as Mussina was, Dylan Bundy could be better.
In his much anticipated pro debut for single-A Delmarva, Bundy tossed three innings, striking out six while not allowing a single base runner. His fastball routinely hit 97 mph, and his curveball was on point. It was one of the most impressive outings I have seen in quite some time.
Dominating opponents is nothing new to Bundy. The 6’-1”, 200-pound flamethrower was the National High School Player of the Year in 2011 after going 11-0, with an 0.20 ERA and 158 strikeouts over 71 innings for Oswasso HS in Oklahoma. He only walked five batters. His fastball has hit 100 mph and he is one of the most intense players you will ever see. He treats every at-bat like it’s game seven of the world series with two outs in the ninth inning and a one run lead. His cutter is a great balance to the fastball, sitting in the low 90s while sitting on the same plane, baffling hitters all the way to the dugout. His curve is a potential plus pitch that sits in the upper 70s, but he is primarily using his fastball and cutter right now. He has also added a change-up since high school, and it has developed nicely, projecting to another plus pitch.
Some will say it was just one game, fans shouldn’t get over-excited about it. After all, Matusz went 11-2, with a 1.91 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 121 K/32 BB over 113 innings his first pro season in 2009.
My response is, go ahead and get excited. Bundy is on a different level than Matusz ever was. Matusz never had the velocity Bundy has. He never had the movement either. Bundy’s mechanics are better now, at age 19, than Matusz’ are at age 25. And as good as Matusz’ control is, Bundy’s is better.
He is 19 years old and on the fast track to the majors. The Orioles put him on the 40-man roster this spring to get him some workouts with the major league players, and he even tossed a scoreless inning. He is the kind of player that will make you forget about 11 years of futility in the draft.