Photo: Chris Gordon
Last Saturday, I spoke to Baltimore Orioles top prospect Dylan Bundy about a range of fun topics: baseball, pick-up trucks, Gettysburg, hockey, his own rehab, and why every time I saw him that weekend he was wielding a giant crossbow. Bundy, ranked the 12th best prospect in all of baseball by ESPN’s Keith Law, has a fascinating story, which I had the honor of documenting for The Washington Post.
You are certainly familiar with Stephen Strasburg, the hard-throwing ace for the Washington Nationals who was drafted first overall in 2010. Bundy, the top high-school athlete of the 2011 draft (and who can lift an insane amount of weight), was drafted 4th overall by the Baltimore Orioles the very next year. They’ve had mirror abilities and mirror career trajectories since. Both starters could throw 100 MPH. Both were robbed of a season due to Tommy John surgery after breezing through the minors. Both were heaped with humangous big expectations from fans immediately after they were drafted.
Two years ago, Bundy became the 16th youngest player to make the Orioles. He pitched twice in relief. 2013 was supposed to be the year he joined the rotation and dominated. Instead, he blew out his elbow in spring training.
After a year of rehab, Bundy returned to the mound with the Aberdeen Ironbirds in early June. A few weeks ago he was promoted to the Single-A Frederick Keys. While his velocity has not been the same, if all goes well, he could potentially join the Orioles down the stretch as they make their final push for the playoffs in September.
Below is the full transcript of our conversation.
So how has your recovery from Tommy John surgery gone?
Dylan Bundy: Good. No problems so far throwing. I’ve had 7 starts total [Editor’s note: he’s made one since]. No soreness in any weird places. That’s the main thing: coming out of my games healthy.
Your first couple of outings in Frederick were a bit of a struggle, but in your last outing, you threw six scoreless innings. What was the difference there?
DB: Maybe I focused a little bit more. I kept most of my pitches down in the zone. The ones I did leave up they were able to hit a little bit harder, but luckily they were right to people. The defense played pretty well behind me.
How has your velocity been? Are you somewhat back to full strength?
DB: Sometimes it hasn’t been as good as it’s been in the past and previous outings. They say it’s pretty common [after the surgery]. I’m anywhere from 90-94 MPH. I might touch 95 MPH once in a game. Mainly sitting 91, 92.
When you’re totally healthy, where do you hope for your velocity to be?
DB: I’m hoping I’ll be 93-96 MPH next year, and hit 98 again like I used to. You know, if it doesn’t come back, hopefully I’ll learn here and in Double-A how to pitch with a slower fastball. My off-speed pitches will have to be better, locating them will have to be better.
I assume that might be good for you to experience so early in your career.
DB: Yeah. You have to locate your pitches better obviously. You don’t have that 97, 98 MPH fastball to blow guys away with when you need to. So you have to locate at 92 MPH, down and away.
What pitches have you been primarily using down here?
DB: Fast, curve, and change. I’m using my change-up a lot more than I did two years ago.
Is the team having you use the change-up more?
DB: Oh no. These guys swing at the first pitch of every at bat. They swing at everything. You’re trying to get guys out obviously early in the count, especially if they’re swinging early. You want to throw something that has movement on it – especially if they’re timing up your fastball in the fourth or fifth innings. Hopefully you can get a ground ball or a pop-up.
How is the velocity on your change-up?
DB: It’s firm. Mainly it’s 85 to 87 MPH. Sometimes a little bit harder.
Can you kind of walk me through how you got hurt last year and the story behind that?
DB: I was getting sore in big league camp and didn’t think anything of it. I thought I’d be just fine. It was early in Spring Training. I thought it was just normal to get sore where I was. The soreness wasn’t down there where the [Tommy John ligaments] were. It was more up top so I didn’t think anything of it. I had no clue it would have been Tommy John.
So I didn’t say anything and I got sent down to Minor League camp and made a four or five inning start. I can’t remember. Then the next day I tried to play catch with Eduardo Rodríguez and it felt like my arm was on fire. At 50 feet, it felt like someone was stabbing me in the elbow and I had to say something.
Was that especially frustrating considering how careful the organization was with you?
DB: Yeah, definitely. Every young pitcher – I think – believes they’re never going to get hurt. It just shows you, anybody can get hurt throwing a baseball. It’s not a common thing to be throwing a baseball like this. You just gotta be careful doing your exercises and take care of yourself.
What would be a perfect scenario for you at the end of the year?
DB: My goal is to get back to the Orioles. That’s been my dream since I was a little kid. I got a little sip of it two years ago and now I want the whole thing. I want to stay there. You just gotta keep working and get better.
So about your childhood, when was that moment for you when you knew, damn, I’m going to be a baseball player.
DB: I remember telling my dad watching TV that. My dad grew up and he did all sorts of jobs. He worked at Ford Motor Company. He had to do a lot of hard work and he worked nights all the time. I told him, “I wanna play baseball.” And he said, “All right, let’s get to work.” That was probably when I was like eight or nine-years-old. Then it was probably when I was a sophomore in high school, when I thought I might have a chance at it.
What was that exact moment? Did you blow away a team?
DB: My velocity was getting up there and I was a sophomore in high school throwing 90-92. I was like, if I keep working, and throw harder and harder, I might be drafted in the first round. In my junior year, I threw a little bit harder. And my senior year I threw a little bit harder too. You know what? I got lucky. The Orioles picked me in the first round.
What was the whole experience like to be drafted that high?
DB: It was different. I grew up in a small town. I knew everyone by their first and last names. We all knew each other and what we’d like to do [as hobbies]. All the attention was new for me. I wasn’t use to it but my mother and father and brother helped me along with that.
A big part of you becoming so good was weight-lifting, correct?
DB: My freshman year in high school, I quit the basketball team to do power lifting with the football team. I ended up gaining 26 pounds in four months. I was lifting the weights pretty hard. Then I went out in Janaury and tried to throw a baseball and couldn’t throw it 30 yards because my muscles were so tight. Each year we worked out extremely hard from November to Janaury and then started doing baseball.
Weight-lifting is a huge thing for me because I’m a shorter guy for a pitcher. I gotta get all the leverage and power I can get. Obviously I still [weight lift], but not as much now because of the surgery. I can’t do as much upper body stuff as before. I like to say more limber now.
I hear hunting is a big thing for you.
DB: We were out shooting our bows today. Out on the field.
I’m not a big hunter so you’re going to have to explain to me what you were actually doing. [laughs]
DB: We had our bows and our arrow, a compound bow, and we have a target we set up at thirty yards and every now and then we’ll move it back to the 400 ft. sign and try shooting at it. You’re never going to shoot a deer that far.
We like to practice, it’s fun to get away from baseball for a little bit.
Who are some of the other Keys players who do it with you?
DB: Parker Bridwell has his bow here – it just depends who has their bow on the team that’s here. Strength Coach Chris Cecere just bought a bow and I actually got it set up for him this morning at Bass Pro. So he came out today and shot at it from 20-30 yards.
Some of the guys said you roll around with the cross-bow all the time.
DB: Oh yeah. All the time. We try to shoot mice from behind the clubhouse. Parker actually hit two.
What’s your biggest accomplishment with hunting?
DB: Just deer mainly. I try to shoot coyotes, but coyotes are kind of tough. I haven’t been able to do a whole lot because I’m not that old yet. My dad went to Africa with his bow and got some big game over there. So he’s pretty experienced with it.
Do you like hunting so much because it has a lot of the same characteristics as pitching? Patience, discipline, and pressure?
DB: Maybe a little bit. You gotta be patient with it, especially coming after surgery like this. In a tree stand, you could sit for four-hours and never see a deer sometimes. That’s not always fun. You had to be patient for a full year of rehab. Rehab’s not always fun either.
What was an average rehab day for you? Was it kind of frustrating because you’re such a driven guy.
DB: The first month was the hardest. You come in and the trainer just stretches your arm a little bit. Probably 20 minutes worth. I came in at 6:30 in the morning and I was done at the field by 8AM. There were a lot of naps involved then.
Was that all in Sarasota?
DB: Yeah. I stayed the whole offseason in Sarasota last year.
When Steven Straburg came back from Tommy John, the Nationals put an inning limit on him and eventually shut him down during a pennant race. At least with you, the Orioles have given you a 75 pitch limit per game.
DB: I definitely don’t like it. I want to throw six, seven innings every time I go out. It doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t really phase me. That’s what the organization wants me to do, so I’m going to do it. If I got 75 pitches or 40 pitches, I’ll take it as long as I can go. In my previous outings, I only went three-and-a-third, four innings. The other night, going six innings was a big step for me. I haven’t done that since 2012. I did it twice then in 2012.
I’m assuming that the pitch limit is also helping you learn how to be a more effective pitcher and get out of jams with fewer pitches.
DB: Definitely. You’ve got to use your pitches effectively. Get hitters out early in the count.
So you’ve basically been doing a tour of a lot of Maryland minor league teams right now. What are the types of things you do in Frederick?
DB: [Long pause] Come to the field every day. We go to the gym every now and then, which is right down the street. Like I said, we’ll shoot our bows out on the field. There ain’t a whole lot. If you want to come to the field early, you go to the gym and eat lunch. I don’t do a whole lot here.
During off days, we’ll go to Washington DC. I went to the Hershey Factory the other day. Then I went to the Gettysburg Battlefield.
Oh, so you’re getting the whole historical tour of America.
DB: Yeah. [laughs]
How much of a Baltimore guy are you now? Have you done the Old Bay, have you had Blue Crabs? You’re a good ol’ country boy from Oklahoma, now you’re here in Maryland. Are you making the transition?
DB: Crabs taste a lot different here than they do in Oklahoma. A lot better. Old Bay? No. I haven’t done a lot downtown. I don’t know a whole lot about Baltimore yet. I was only there for two weeks.
Honestly, I don’t do a whole lot other than baseball. I’m pretty simple. Like I said I went to Hershey and I visited Gettysburg for the first time. I like to try new things and get out there a little bit.
So this is going to be random — especially since you’re from Oklahoma — but have you ever had an affinity for hockey? Have you ever watched a game?
DB: I haven’t watched a full game. I can’t get into it. I don’t understand it. You can hit some guys hard and sometimes you can’t. I don’t get it. Sometimes you can hit them with a stick, sometimes you can’t. I don’t get it.
Tough sport though, I respect them for it.
Before you were drafted the Orioles had 15+ losing seasons. Ever since Andy MacPhail made the Bedard deal and got Adam Jones, the team has improved and now they’re contenders. There’s a great core of veteran players on the team like Jones, Matt Wieters, JJ Hardy, and Nick Markakis. Are you excited about what this team can do at full strength?
DB: We got a real good base up there, you know. A good group of players and they all get along real well. Everybody up there knows what to do to win. They all have their own special routines that they do and they know what they’ve got to do when they come to the park every day to win a ball game. Everybody up there understands their role.
Do you like the fact that you’re on an AL East team? This is routinely the most difficult division in baseball.
DB: Definitely. The competition up there is insane: Boston, Toronto, Tampa. That’s a pretty good division. It’s fun to be in. To be the best you have to play the best.
So of course I have to ask you about your truck. That is a big ol’ mama. Where’d you get that and if I’m not mistaken is that a search light at the top of it?
DB: So I got drafted in 2011 and I was in Instructs and I didn’t get paid until the second week of Instructs. It takes a while for all the contract stuff to go through. So I finally got a little bit of money and told my dad, “Can you get me a truck so when I get back home I’ll have it?” So he was like, “What do you want?” Obviously a Ford, since he worked for Ford. He got my brother one – he needed it. He got him a platinum truck – and I got the same one but a different color. After that, I started googling to see what I could do to it. I lifted it, tires, light bars, lights…
How big are your rims?
DB: I don’t know. Like 20? [laughs]
You have a spotlight up there too right?
DB: I got a LED light bar up there that’s 50 inches. It’s nice!
I also caught up with Keys pitching coach Kennie Steenstra.
Overall, how has Dylan’s recovery gone?
Kennie Steenstra: He’s been doing well. He’s had a little trouble at times in his rhythm and getting his command back. Slowly but surely he’s getting better every time.
It seems like he’s been having some problems adjusting a bit in Frederick. What would you point to as the problem for that?
KS: He’s had some struggles with some bad command and some bad luck in a couple of starts. We’re just tickled to death he’s good physically. He’s getting stronger every time. We want him ready to go full-steam next year.
What was different in his start last week where he pitched six scoreless innings?
KS: Honestly, his stuff was the same as its been, he was just sharper. He did a nice job of forcing contact on early pitches. A little extra life to the fastball, though the velocity was the same. A little crisper.
What’s his velocity been like?
KS: He’s been pretty steady at 90-94. Between Aberdeen and here it’s been about the same. You can just tell a different crispness on different nights. With the surgery, sometimes it takes awhile to get back to full strength.
Do you think going through these struggles without his normal power is good for him?
KS: You talk to guys who have gone through this before, they all say the same thing: it makes you learn how to pitch. He was blessed with an amazing arm in high school and he had the ability to reach back and blow it by guys. He doesn’t necessarily have that right now. He has to learn how to use his change-up in a hitter’s count and pitch a little backwards sometimes. Those are the kinds of things where when he becomes full strength and his fastball comes back, that’s going to make him that much better.
How are his secondary pitches?
KS: When I saw him two years ago in Bowie, his curveball was way above his change-up. Now I would flip-flop it. His change-up has really come along. His curveball’s going to be an average pitch too, but he’s having trouble finding a consistent release point with it right now. It’s part of the same troubles he’s having with his fastball command – just finding that same rhythm.
I’ve heard some stories about Dylan and his crossbow. Is it true he’s shooting at targets on the field before practice?
KS: Luckily enough it was early and nobody was out on the field yet. [laughs] We’ve got a couple of mid-western boys that hunt a little bit so they’ll put a target out there and do some shooting. He’s a good kid. He’s down to earth. He hasn’t changed since I first saw him two or three years ago. I think a lot of people forget how young he is. He’s still a little immature at times, but when it comes to baseball, there’s a ton of maturity.