Baltimore has several vying for Opening Day roster spots
By Mike Rosenbaum
Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the season ahead. Some are competing for jobs in big league camp, others are prepping for the season as they vie for spots at Minor League affiliates up and down a team's system. MLBPipeline.com will be visiting all 30 camps this spring. Today, we check in on the Baltimore Orioles.
SARASOTA, Fla. -- With several Opening Day roster spots still up for grabs, the Baltimore Orioles are giving some of their top prospects an extended look this spring in big league camp.
Headlining that group is the oft-injured Dylan Bundy, who made his big league debut in September 2012 in his first full pro season, only to miss the entire 2013 season and most of '14 following Tommy John surgery. A shoulder issue prematurely ended his 2015 campaign in late May after just eight starts, though he did return to the mound for two Arizona Fall League starts last November, logging exactly one inning in each outing.
Fully healthy this spring, Bundy, the Orioles' No. 2 prospect, has impressed club officials with his stuff and has shown steady improvement with each outing in big league camp.
"He's been up to 96 mph this spring in big league camp and our scouts say his curveball has improved outing to outing," said Orioles special assistant to the EVP of scouting baseball operations Danny Haas. "His arm stroke is getting longer and you can tell he's gaining confidence as he goes along. We really like how he's competed this spring."
Without any remaining Minor League options on his contract, the Orioles are having Bundy prepare for a bullpen role in 2016 in order to safely manage his workload. So far, club officials have been impressed with how he's taken to the new role.
"He's going to do whatever it takes to make the club this year," Haas said. "Most important, he's happy to be healthy. In terms of his potential bullpen role, he's embraced it a lot and is getting better mentally at coming in for an inning and being as crisp as he can be. He's also recovering well after his outings.
"But we haven't given up on the idea of him starting by any means. He's a big, strong kid and shouldn't have any problem holding his stuff even as he gets farther away from starting."
Meanwhile, right-handers Mike Wright (No. 10) and Tyler Wilson (No. 18) are both in the mix for a potential rotation spot -- especially with Kevin Gausman currently experiencing shoulder soreness -- after getting their first tastes of the big leagues in 2015, respectively.
"Wright has held 94-97 mph pretty consistently in camp," Haas noted. "And he should remain in the mix for a rotation spot to begin the season if he can maintain that kind of velocity.
"Tyler has been his steady self this spring. He'll show you four pitches and they're all pretty much average, but he locates and mixes his pitches and changes speeds well enough to help up in the rotation."
On the other side of the ball, No. 13 prospectChristian Walker is hoping improved defensive versatility, along with his right-handed power, will help him crack the Opening Day roster.
"He had one game in left field for us and actually made seven or eight plays and showed some arm strength by throwing out a guy at third base. It went about as well as it could have for his first time in the outfield since his early college days. I don't think he would embarrass us at all out there right now," Haas said.
Hunter Harvey, the Orioles' No. 1 prospect and MLBPipeline.com's No. 85 overall prospect, has drawn raves this spring from club officials after missing the entire 2015 season due to a balky right elbow. The 2013 first-rounder appears to have put the injury behind him, however, as he's drawing raves from club officials for his performance in big league camp as well as on the Minor League side.
"I think he was bumping either 97 or 98 in his first outing in big league camp, but it might have been a little too much too fast because he went through a brief dead-arm period after that. But his stuff is back to where it was before all of the injury problems, and he says he feels great," said Haas.
"The big thing with him is that's he's gotten so much physically stronger since 2014," he continued. "He's a good 15-20 pounds heavier from his first year of pitching, and he's also learned how to pitch. It's all very encouraging."
No. 11 prospect Tanner Scott, the club's sixth-round Draft pick in 2014, also has opened eyes in his first big league camp, building off of an impressive showing in last year's Arizona Fall League.
"We're getting the most calls about him from around the game than anyone else," said Haas. "He looked really good in his outings in big league camp; he struck out the side in one of them throwing nothing but his fastball, which has been up to 100 mph down here. He's only 21 and his feel continues to get better and the slider is coming on. He's actually flashed a pretty good changeup, though I don't know how much he'll have to use it."
The Orioles gave Josh Hart $1.45 million as a supplemental first round pick in the 2013 Draft, envisioning him as a potential top-of-the-order catalyst capable of sticking in center field. Though he still has an intriguing collection of tools, including plus speed and an above-average glove, his performance at the plate during his first two full seasons has left something to be desired. The Orioles' No. 29 prospect spent all of 2015 as a 20-year-old at Class A Advanced Frederick, where hit .255/.282/.311 with 30 steals in 104 games.
"Josh came in to camp at 205 pounds and has put together some really good at-bats this spring, hitting a couple doubles and triples including one off left-hander Tyler Jay in a Minor League game against the Twins. Our Double-A managers in Minor League camp are really pleased with his showing so far on both sides of the ball," said Haas.
Though he doesn't rank among the Orioles' Top 30 prospects heading into 2016, club officials believe left-hander Brian Gonzalez is poised for a potential breakout performance. A third-round Draft pick in 2014 out of Archbisop McCarthy (Southwest Ranches, Fla.), Gonzalez posted a 5.71 ERA in 105 2/3 innings across 23 starts in his full-season debut with Class A Delmarva in 2015.
"Our reports are that he's held 92-93 mph this spring. He was bumping 94-95 mph at the end of last season, but this is the earliest that he's ever thrown that hard in camp. It's the kind of improvement that you hope for when you draft high school pitchers. We originally pegged him as more of a back-of-the-rotation starter, but if he can carry over that velocity, he'll have a chance to be a much different guy," Haas said.
Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.