We’re all kind of used to Dylan Bundy by now, aren’t we?
There was plenty of hype about Bundy when he was drafted fourth overall last year, with many calling him the best high school pitcher in a decade. That hype immediately skyrocketed following Bundy’s debut this season with Low-A Delmarva, where he threw three perfect innings, and continued to accelerate as Bundy strung together numbers that were almost too ridiculous to believe: 30 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 40 K, across eight starts.
Then he was promoted to High-A Frederick, and while his status as baseball’s top pitching prospect was already cemented by that point, the Bundy excitement doesn’t seem to be quite as intense since. Part of this is that his numbers since the promotion—a 3.11 ERA and 42/12 K/BB in 37 2/3 innings across eight starts—are merely dominant, not historic. The other piece is that we sort of know what to expect from Bundy now—he’s going to be great. At this point, his stock can’t really get all that much higher—he’s expected to dominate every time out.
I had the pleasure of seeing Bundy’s last start, in which he happened to set a new career high with eight strikeouts in five innings against Cleveland’s High-A affiliate. So, with the Bundy coverage seemingly dialed down a notch as he continues his trek through the minors, now’s a good time for me to get a word in on him.
The narrative on Bundy early in the season was that he didn’t belong in Low-A. Well, let me add to that—he doesn’t need to be in High-A either.
You might suspect a bit of confirmation bias on my part, there. After all, Dylan Bundy has made eight starts in High-A. Saturday’s outing was the first time he struck out eight, only the second that he allowed fewer than three hits, and one of just three without multiple walks. He also didn’t allow an earned run for only the second time.
When one puts up a statline like 5 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 8 K, it’s hard to imagine the process behind those numbers looking less than excellent, if not stellar. But Dylan Bundy was on another level entirely. Understand I’m not one to get particularly hyperbolic about these things.
The first batter of the game was second baseman Tony Wolters. Tony Wolters is a nice prospect. He just turned 20 and yet hasn’t been totally overmatched in High-A, hitting .252/.313/.360, ripping 20 doubles. He’s a lefthanded hitter with a decent contact bat. Dylan Bundy threw him three fastballs, all in the strike zone. Wolters swung at all three. He managed to get a foul tip on the second, but that was the only contact he’d get.
The second batter, outfielder Bo Greenwell, managed to hit a weak grounder to short. Bundy then got Giovanni Urshela to look foolish on a curve in the dirt to end the first.
I’m not going to take you through all five innings, because it’s really not necessary. But Bundy didn’t allow a baserunner until the fourth inning. He had a particularly memorable sequence in the second against shortstop Ronny Rodriguez (another legitimate prospect) where he threw a 1-1 curve that bounced at least a couple of feet in front of the plate, but Rodriguez swung anyway. He then followed with another curve on 1-2, just above the dirt, that made Rodriguez swing exactly like I swing in MLB 2K12 when I guess fastball and get an eephus.* And I thought to myself "Oh my gosh, professional batters actually can swing like that sometimes." It made me feel better about my video game failings. But now I’m going on a tangent, and you want to hear about Dylan Bundy, so I’ll stop this train before it starts rolling.
*If you’re not familiar with the sort of swing I’m referring to, it’s less of a "swing" and more of a "desperate lunge," with the batter’s torso stretching out over the plate. And, of course, it’s visibly far out in front of the pitch.
Bundy’s fastball jumped on hitters very quickly throughout the outing—even the two hits off of him were to the opposite field. The stadium gun had him working consistently at 92-94 mph, though it seemed to undersell the velocities of the game’s pitchers relative to their scouting reports. At the very least, we know he wasn’t working any slower than that. There were a few 91s in the fifth, but otherwise his fastball held its velocity all the way through the outing. It displayed very good backspin and seemed to ride up and in to righthanders. Bundy’s quick arm action allowed him to stay on top of the pitch and command it well to both sides of the plate, though he didn’t bust lefties inside very much.
The big eye-opener for me was his curveball, which batters simply had no chance at—unless I’m forgetting something, nobody made contact with the pitch all night. Just laying off the curve seemed to be as much of an accomplishment as most of the Carolina hitters could muster, and even that was quite rare. And Bundy was judicious in his use of the bender, which arrived in the 74-76 range with tight spin, turning to it maybe 12-15 times across eighteen batters—had he used it more, he may have been able to dominate to an even greater extent.
After going mostly fastball with the occasional curve his first time through the order, Bundy started working in some changeups in his final two innings. The pitch arrived in the 81-84 range, showcasing good velocity separation. The 81 mph-ers came with slower arm speed—Bundy tended to sell the pitch better in the 83-84 range. He struggled to get a feel for it on his first few attempts, with the pitch coming in flat, but his final three or four featured sinking action and nice fade. With more consistency, it could certainly be a plus offering, but it’s far behind his other two pitches right now.
Incidentally, Bundy was opposed by another pitcher who doesn’t belong in the Carolina League, lefthander Matt Packer. Packer, however, doesn’t belong there for an entirely different reason—he’s an upper-minors guy on a rehab assignment. Last year, Packer had a 3.56 FIP and a 129/39 K/BB in Double-A.
Bundy was better than Packer. And that’s not to say Packer was bad—quite the opposite, actually. Packer worked five innings as well, and he allowed just four baserunners and no runs while striking out four.
But while Bundy was overwhelming batters with the turbo heater and disappearing breaking ball, Packer had to work for every strike, let alone every out. He topped out at 86 on the stadium gun—which seemed kind of suspicious, since there are reports of him touching the 90s at times, but still means he was working a full eight mph below Bundy.
Packer makes up for his velocity shortcomings with a deep arsenal. His four-seam fastball, which came in at 84-86, was easily his weakest pitch. He did spot it well to both sides of the plate, and it features natural cut. He also threw a true cutter in the 82-84 range that allowed him to bust righthanders inside, which is a huge plus. His slurvy breaking ball took on a big-breaking slider look at 76-78 and more of an overhand curve appearance at 74-75, while he also threw a diving changeup in the upper 70s. None of the offspeed offerings looked like truly plus pitches, but all were average to solid-average, and having five pitches allowed Packer to play around with all sorts of different looks.
Packer utilizes a deceptive delivery with a slight hip turn and a pronounced arm stab that reminded me a bit of Erik Bedard. It’s a clean motion that doesn’t interfere with command and can be repeated with relative ease, and it aids his pedestrian arsenal.
So Packer has to scrap and battle to get anywhere, but with his deception, command, movement, and different looks, he just might have a future as a back-of-the-rotation guy. It’s certainly easy to see how he could succeed at the Double-A level, and I could imagine him acquitting himself solidly in Triple-A if he is assigned there following the completion of his rehab stint. His upside is probably something like the 2012 incarnation of Tom Milone, but that’s not bad for a guy who was drafted in the 32nd round three years ago.
Bundy and Packer both exited the game after five innings, and the quality of the pitching plummeted. Bundy was replaced by a small Venezuelan righthander named Oscar Melendez, who I’d never heard of. Melendez did not pitch in 2010 or 2011, and the 25-year-old had made four appearances this season, in which he allowed eight runs in just 3 2/3 innings. He managed 2 2/3 while allowing just one run on Saturday, but it was about the ugliest 2 2/3 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K outing imaginable.
While Bundy and Packer don’t belong in High-A because they’re too good for the level, Melendez’s placement at the level may be overly generous, as his stats suggest.
Melendez’s approach to pitching seemed to involve nothing more than lighting up a radar gun. I’m sure some pitcher somewhere has more effort in his delivery, but I have yet to see it—Melendez’s motion consists of a dramatic back leg collapse followed by an even more dramatic front-side bailout. He falls off to the first-base side with huge recoil. It’s just painful to watch. Time and time again, the same thing would happen: He’d lose what little balance in his motion there is, fail to get on top of the ball, rotate too far and plant way off to the glove side, drag his arm through release, and watch the bail sail predictably high and off to the arm side.
But the stadium radar gun read "93," so…mission accomplished? Maybe?
Frankly, it’s no small feat that Melendez nearly matched Bundy’s velocity, but given that around half his pitches were in the same way-off-the-mark up-and-armside location, it hardly mattered. He also didn’t show much else—his changeup came in at 78-81 but was straight and telegraphed, and while he showed a decent breaking pitch in warmups, he hardly used it. At 25 and with no command and what I’d say is a true 20-grade mechanical profile, Melendez is exactly the sort of one-skill player you expect to see at the level.
He was relieved by another relative no-name, Matt Bischoff. Bischoff also has one skill—he has a quirky low-three-quarters slingshot delivery that gives righthanders fits, and a big, sweeping slider that’s tough to pick up out of that release. That’s the sort of thing that worked well in the low minors, and Bischoff did successfully retire four of the five righties he faced in the outing (marred only by a hit-by-pitch), but he also allowed a homer to the one lefty who went up against him, center fielder Carlos Moncrief, and it wasn’t a cheap homer, as it was launched out to dead center. Bischoff topped out at 88 with little movement, and I’d guess his deception/slider package isn’t going to carry him a whole lot higher. He’s also already 25, having been drafted at 23.
On the Carolina side, Packer was replaced by righthander Will Roberts, who carries far more prospect cred than either Frederick reliever. Roberts is a normal starting pitcher who was working in essentially a tandem arrangement with Packer. He was selected in the fifth round of the 2011 draft out of Virginia and is still just 21.
Roberts was the polar opposite of Melendez. I really like his delivery—it jumped out at me as very clean and easy, reminiscent of A’s prospect A.J. Cole. Roberts is also built a bit like Cole at 6’5" 195. A glance at his numbers, however, reveals that Roberts doesn’t miss many bats—he’s only struck out 47 in 98 innings between Low-A and High-A this year. It wasn’t hard to see why, as Roberts, for all the prettiness in his delivery, didn’t have anything that looked like an MLB-caliber pitch. His fastball was 86-88 (again, the gun could be underselling him, but still), he threw some nondescript 78-81 mph changeups, and only rarely threw any sort of breaking pitch. He might have a bit of projection left, and his delivery allows him to spot his fastball well to both sides of the plate, but he’s not deceptive at all and really needs to come up with a pitch that moves.
Jose Flores, a former Rule 5 pick, got the save, but only threw a couple of pitches to get it. His mechanics were shaky, with a very high back elbow and the same back-leg collapse/overrotation/front-side bailout issues that afflict Melendez (though to a mercifully lesser degree). The big righthander worked at 89-91 with his fastball and didn’t get the chance to go offspeed at all.
Perhaps this was just a bad collection of relief pitchers. If their ERAs are any indication, that’s indeed the case. But watching them over the course of the final four innings really underscored the greatness of Packer and especially Bundy. It’s strange to think that for a brief moment in time, Dylan Bundy, with his incredible fastball/curve combo, was considered to be at the same level of performance as Oscar Melendez, with his 20-grade mechanics and command.
Here’s some other assorted notes I made:
- While Melendez’s delivery regularly put itself at the top of "Most Groan-Inducing Moment," Frederick shortstop Garabez Rosa was right there with him on a play in the top of the seventh. Carolina left fielder Anthony Gallas hit a hard grounder between short and third. I immediately said "Hit!" out loud on contact, but Rosa apparently disagreed, as he tried to make the throw from deep in the hole. It was a classic example of a play you see an A-ball fielder try, whereas an MLB fielder knows to just eat the ball. Rosa’s throw was late, short…and a good 15-25 feet off the target, thrown into shallow right field. Amazingly, Gallas did not advance to second, so Rosa was not charged with an error.
- Catchers Dwight Childs and Joe Oliveira entered the game hitting well below the Mendoza Line, but they both ripped the ball hard in each of their first two at-bats. Childs was the only player to pull a Bundy fastball all night, and he did so with authority—though the liner was hit right at the left fielder. It was an interesting display of how just about anyone can look good at the plate in a given game, even against top-quality pitching.
- In another little small-sample surprise, Frederick center fielder Steven Bumbry, who’s struck out in a third of his plate appearances against his fellow lefties in the past two years, stayed back well on a Packer curveball and lined it to center for just one of three hits off the Carolina starter. I was struck by how well he recognized and reacted to the pitch.
- Wolters hit a pair of deep fly balls. On one hand, it’s nice that he drove the ball. On the other hand, I couldn’t help but wonder if that was a suboptimal outcome—he’s not a big guy, doesn’t have a ton of power, and only had two homers all year (He hit his third the next day). Wolters did make an absolutely fantastic diving play at second where he made a tremendous throw from the ground, really showing off all the aspects of his defensive game on one play.
- Carolina first baseman Jesus Aguilar is big, and between his size and swing leverage, he’s the sort of guy that makes you go "I wish I could get the chance to see what happens when he really gets a hold of one." I expected him to be thicker than he is—he’s a big guy, but it’s not bad weight, and that’s a good thing. Neither he nor opposing first baseman Aaron Baker, however, are very athletic.
- Carolina outfielder Bo Greenwell has hit very well this year. He has an odd stance that reminds me a bit of Bobby Kielty, with his hands high and out over the plate, but he makes it work. He stays back on the ball well, which allowed him to line a Bundy fastball the other way for a double. He probably doesn’t have enough leverage in his swing to hit enough to be a useful MLB corner outfielder, though.
- Moncrief’s homer was surprising. It didn’t seem like it was hit all that well off the bat, but it just kept on carrying. And balls really don’t carry great in Frederick, so that speaks to Moncrief’s power. It’s a shame he strikes out so much.
- Frederick second baseman Ty Kelly has always had great strikeout-to-walk ratios, and it’s easy to spot his knack for contact and patience. He switch-hits and has decent hands at second, and plenty of experience at several different positions. That might be enough to make him an Augie Ojeda type.