Although the Orioles aren't that good this year, the future is bright in Birdland. A big reason for this is Dylan Bundy, the flamethrower whom the Orioles selected in the first round of the 2011 draft. In his rookie year in the minors, he struck out 29.9% of the batters he faced while only walking 7%; his 2.08 ERA in 103.2 innings would have been exceptional for anyone, but the fact that he did it as a 19-year-old elevated him to immortality.
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Like anything positive for an Orioles fan, however, this was doomed to fail. Sure enough, Bundy tore a ligament in his elbow and succumbed to Tommy John surgery; he should begin pitching again in June or July. His 2013 absence notwithstanding, many top prospect prognosticators remain confident that he'll recapture his potential, to the extent that he was Baltimore's #2 overall prospect following 2013.
How common is this, then? Throughout baseball's (recent) history, how many prospects have been ranked after taking a year off due to injury? Prospect rankings themselves are fairly new — there aren't top 100 lists going back to 1871. For this exercise, I looked at Baseball America's rankings, since they go back the furthest — to 1990. Since they've done a Top 100 list in every year since then, the pool was a very large 2,500 players. Of these, 124 didn't play in the season prior to their ranking.
Of this group, there were three basic subgroups. The first was international free agents, who obviously didn't play domestically in the preceding year; the most recent example of this is Masahiro Tanaka, whom BA ranked #4 in its 2014 Top 100. The second was rookies, who didn't sign quickly enough to play in the year they were drafted; the most recent example of this is...Dylan Bundy, whom BA ranked #10 in its 2012 Top 100. I didn't care about these two groups, as my focus was on the ones who had been injured.
After removing the IFAs and the rookies, I was left with 11 players. Aside from the name at the top, they're not an inspiring group:
|Player||Ranking||Year Ranked||Year Missed||Injury||Age In Injured Year||Career WAR|
|Chipper Jones||3||1995||1994||Torn ACL||22||84.8|
|Nick Johnson||10||2001||2000||Strained wrist||21||15.1|
|Matt Belisle||96||2002||2001||Herniated disc||21||9.4|
|Jarrod Parker||33||2011||2010||Elbow (Tommy John)||21||5.0|
|Jason Kubel||58||2006||2005||Torn ACL||23||2.8|
|Arodys Vizcaino||83||2013||2012||Elbow (Tommy John)||21||0.1|
|Andrew Brackman||92||2009||2008||Elbow (Tommy John)||22||0.0|
|Dylan Bundy||15||2014||2013||Elbow (Tommy John)||20||0.0|
|Francisco Rosario||87||2004||2003||Elbow (Tommy John)||22||-0.1|
|Greg Miller||100||2005||2004||Strained shoulder||19||---|
|Ryan Anderson||14||2002||2001||Torn labrum||21||---|
Miller and Anderson never even cracked the major leagues, and Rosario and Brackman only had brief stints in the show. Kubel's been a pretty poor player over his tenure in the majors — out of his nine seasons, only 2009 was above-average — and injuries have definitely had a hand in his struggles. The jury's still out on Parker and Vizcaino. The former just had his second Tommy John surgery; one is bad enough, but two is essentially a death sentence for a starter. As for the latter, he missed 2013 as well as 2012; although he's shown signs of a return to form, the clock is ticking for him.
The three successful members of the group are Belisle, Johnson, and Jones. Belisle's back ailment (coupled with an ineffective 2007) led to him moving to the bullpen, where he's been worth at least 1.3 WAR in each of the past four years. Johnson only qualified for the batting title on three occasions, but he was impressive when he did: In 2005 and 2006, he accrued 4.2 and 4.9 WAR, respectively, and he still put up a 129 wRC+ in a subpar (1.5 WAR) 2009. Nevertheless, he battled through several maladies — many of them wrist-related — before giving up last year (to the anguish of FanGraphs). Then, of course, there's Jones, who for the most part maintained a clean bill of health throughout his time in MLB.
Obviously, this sample size is much too small to draw any significant conclusions. It's still interesting to see how players similar to Bundy have done; hopefully, Bundy's career won't follow the same path as many of them.
. . .
All Prospect Rankings courtesy of Baseball America. All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs. All injury data courtesy of Baseball Prospectus.
Ryan Romano is a featured writer for Beyond the Box Score. He's also written on the FanGraphs Community blog and on Camden Chat that one time. Follow him on Twitter at @triple_r_.