"Isn't this great, your flight leaves at eight
Her flight lands at nine, my game just rewinds"
-Notorious B.I.G., One More Chance
Dylan Bundy - Orioles
The former top-10 prospect has very much had a star-crossed pro career thus far. Drafted 4th overall out of Owasso HS (Okla.) in 2011, Bundy breezed through the lower levels and made his MLB debut at age 19 despite just three appearances at AA Bowie.
Since that much-ballyhooed September debut, it's been nothing but bad news for the talented righthander. Bundy missed the next season and a half after undergoing Tommy John surgery and was again shelved for nearly all of '15 after doctors discovered calcium deposits in his shoulder - a rare diagnosis in the baseball world which felt even bleaker when Dr. James Andrews remarked that it was the worst case of the condition he'd witnessed.
The most recent updates on Bundy, per the Baltimore Sun, is that he was finally able to throw a 20-pitch 'side sesh' this week with no complications. The O's front office will soon decide on an offseason plan that could include a pit-stop in the Arizona Fall League and/or Winter Leagues if they deem it important for Bundy to see game action after so many lost innings. Alternatively, 'Bawlmer' brass may opt to break out the proverbial bubble wrap and shut the prized pitcher down for the winter - especially considering his contract status.
What makes Bundy's situation unique is that he signed a major league contract upon being drafted, and after four injury-ravaged seasons he will head into 2016 out of 'player options' - meaning if he's healthy coming out of spring training, the O's will be forced to either carry him on the 25-man roster or risk losing him on waivers, where all 29 other clubs would likely yearn to take a flyer on a player of such immense talent.
It's going to be an eventful offseason in Baltimore, as they have a myriad of decisions to make in retaining free agents Chris Davis, Wei-Yi Chen, Matt Wieters, and others. Ironically, the most franchise-altering decision might be out of their hands as the health of Dylan Bundy looms large. All signs are pointing to Bundy starting out the season in a relief role as Showalter does 'the old Earl Weaver thing' (h/t John Sickels) and sufficiently stretches him to prepare for a shot in the rotation. After seeing Jake Arrieta dominate and Eduardo Rodriguez emerge when leaving the club, the front office will be to loath to cut bait on another potential frontline starter. Without the safety net of a minor league option available, Bundy will need to contribute to the pitching staff in some way; if not, GM Dan Duquette will have another tough decision to make.
Jurickson Profar - Rangers
Down in Arlington, the Rangers have their own snakebitten former top prospect on the mend. The switch-hitting infielder out of Curacao signed with the Rangers in 2009 and displayed ample tools along stops at Spokane, Hickory, and Frisco to earn a big league callup at the end of the 2012 season. Texas even selected Profar for the postseason roster that year at the tender age of 19, perhaps hoping to channel the magic of another 19-year old Curacao native that burst onto the baseball scene in the 1996 postseason - Andruw Jones. While the Rangers were bounced in the wild card game by the Orioles, Profar's stock remained high that offseason as he rated amongst nearly every outlet's top 5 prospect list for the 2nd year in a row.
Even though Profar lost his rookie/prospect status during the 2013 season, his outlook is being evaluated here partly because he's an interesting contrast to Dylan Bundy. While both have missed the bulk of the last two seasons with shoulder concerns, it seems that media coverage has been rather light on both players' recoveries given the 'generational propect' tag that were bestowed on both. It's fair to wonder if in the 'year of the rookie', the industry has become somewhat distracted by all the shiny new talent that's been infused into the pro game - not to mention breakout performances by still-eligible prospects such as Mazara, Alex Reyes, or A.J. Reed.
In researching this piece, it does appear the Baltimore faithful are a bit more eager for updates on their prized youngster, moreso than Ranger fans with Profar. This could be due to the stark contrast in organizational outlook for both clubs. Whereas the Orioles are in a tough spot with multiple free agents and precious little impact down on the farm, Texas is in the midst of a playoff run and will open next year with a Hamels-Darvish combo backed by their perenially dangerous offense. Considering the Rangers also have more high-ceiling minor league talent (Gallo/Mazara/Brinson) than most, it's clear that Baltimore simply needs Bundy more.
This shouldn't detract from the fact that Profar's career is at a crossroads as the 2015 season comes to a close. While he's still just 22, the list of players who've excelled in the game after two full missed seasons isn't a long one. Any setbacks during the offseason or spring training would be yet another big hit to the young infielder's development. But while Rangers' GM Jon Daniels would be hard-pressed to count on Profar contributing in 2016, the contrarian's view is that his presence would be crucial for both Texas' offseason maneuvers as well as their lineup construction. Before his shoulder injury in 2013, Profar played at least four games at four different positions (2B-3B-SS-LF) for the big club. If he's back to full health, the Curacaon could conceivably fill in all over the diamond and/or push aging Adrian Beltre to more DH/1B duty. Finally, if Daniels is convinced that Profar is all the way back, we can't rule out a trade to make room for him. Veterans Shin-Soo Choo and Elvis Andrus will make a combined $35 million next year, and with recent trades of Ian Kinsler and Cole Hamels in mind, the Rangers are unafraid to get creative with the money aspect of deals in order to balance out their club.
While Bundy's offseason plan is still up in the air, Profar managed to get back on the field for 33 ABs at the end of the minor league season and now heads to the Arizona Fall League as he continues his recovery. Though industry chatter has been low, all eyes will be on Jurickson in the desert to see if he can regain his place among the games' best young players.