BALTIMORE — With the Orioles beginning play on Friday tied for the second American League wild card spot, one of the most intriguing questions discussed over the better part of the last two months has centered around a 19-year-old pitching prospect Dylan Bundy.
Will the club call up the young pitcher when rosters expand on Sept. 1?
Though manager Buck Showalter wasn’t asked directly about Bundy’s status before Friday’s game, he’s smart enough to know any questions regarding potential September call-ups are accompanied by the underlying meaning of where the phenom pitcher fits into the equation.
It wasn’t the first time the topic had been broached to the Baltimore manager in recent weeks, but Showalter paused longer than usual before providing a response. It didn’t take a genius to figure out to which particular prospect he was referring.
“We’re considering all options,” said Showalter with a smirk on his face. “I think I know where you’re going and rightfully so.”
Showalter met with his coaching staff to discuss potential options when rosters expand next week before he meets once again with executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette. Triple-A Norfolk and Double-A Bowie both play their regular-season finales on Sept. 3, but each is in playoff contention.
While the Orioles in past seasons would have likely left younger players with their respective farm clubs to gain postseason experience, the objective is dramatically different this season as the Orioles look to earn their first postseason berth in 15 years.
“I know Dan’s thinking the priority is going to be what best serves us,” said Showalter about the farm clubs’ prospective playoff runs, “but if we can bridge the gap and satisfy both needs, then we’ll try to do it.”
Already a member of the 40-man roster, Bundy is scheduled to make his next start for Double-A Bowie on Sunday, which will be his third with the Baysox. The right-hander has pitched 11 1/3 innings over his first two starts, posting a 3.18 earned run average with seven strikeouts and four walks.
The likelihood of Bundy being promoted to the big leagues seemed remote at best only a few weeks ago, but the Orioles’ bold decision to call up 20-year-old shortstop Manny Machado to become their everyday third baseman signaled a dramatic shift in philosophy. The club called up a prospect with the thought of helping the big-league club over what might have been best for his development.
As for the other candidates to be recalled, Showalter doesn’t anticipate too many surprises with the likes of Steve Tolleson, Xavier Avery, Joe Mahoney, Jake Arrieta, and Jason Berken on the current 40-man roster.
“I think it changes depending on what situation you’re in,” Showalter said. “There are some guys that you’d like to expose to it, but most of them are here or have already been here. We’ve done a pretty good job of exposing people this year to the environment and everything — or a bad job of it. This year, I think they’re going to serve a purpose of helping us win, which is kind of one in the same. There’s only a couple guys in there potentially that there was some discussion about. I think the rest of it — in our coaches’ minds — was pretty cut and dry.”
In addition to Bundy, another intriguing possibility to provide a spark to the big club would be outfielder L.J. Hoes, who’s hitting .318 at Norfolk and could provide another option in left field should veteran Nate McLouth begin struggling. Hoes is not on the current 40-man roster, but Showalter said the club has proven all year it’s not afraid to remain fluid with their overall makeup.
“Obviously, Dan’s always got some ideas that we haven’t thought about, and there’s some other variables you’ve got to keep in mind when you’re calling guys up,” Showalter said. “It won’t matter whether they’re on the [40-man] roster or not; I can tell you that, like it hasn’t all year. If they can help us, they’re coming [and] we’ll figure it out.”
By no means is a Bundy call-up guaranteed to happen, but the whispers are becoming louder and the chances growing stronger that the 2011 first-round pick will take the Camden Yards mound in September to try to aid in the Orioles’ first playoff push since the young pitcher was several weeks shy of his fifth birthday in 1997.
Unexpected events often call for unexpected decisions, and the Bundy decision is sure to be filled with intrigue — and controversy — over the next few weeks.