I may be aging myself with the title reference, but when I was growing up King Kong Bundy was the ultimate in evil. Slaying our wrestling heroes with his Bundy splash, greedily asking for a five count instead of the usual three.
Now that I am a lot older and maybe a little bit more mature, I have traded pro wrestling for Blue Jays baseball. They are more similar than one might imagine. Eminently frustrating, comical at times, and now, with Dylan Bundy making his major league debut for the rival Orioles, I have another Bundy to potentially slay my heroes for years to come.
Bundy’s ascension to the bigs has been meteoric. After being drafted fourth overall in 2011, Bundy’s signing went right to the deadline, delaying his pro debut until this season. The wait didn’t really seem to affect him. He blew through the Sally (A) and Carolina (A+) leagues before finally looking somewhat mortal during his three Eastern League (AA) starts.
If Baltimore were occupying their usual spot in the East Division’s cellar that would probably have been that and the next we would have heard about Dylan Bundy was when Baseball America came out with their pre-season prospect rankings. Where, I’m sure, Jays fans would have looked in horror at who occupied the number one ranking. Instead, with the Orioles occupying one of the two wild card positions and Bundy having only pitched approximately 104 of his rough limit of 125 innings, Dylan was called up and Jays fans got to look on in horror as he threw a scoreless inning against Toronto on Tuesday night.
Now, my interest in Dylan Bundy goes beyond what he is going to do to the Jays over the next six years. I can’t help but catch myself comparing him to the three pretty good pitchers the Jays have down in A ball. Sure, Bundy was a high first round pick, entered the season ranked 10th in BA’s pre-season prospect rankings, rising to 1st by mid-season. In the Sally League (the other A ball league) he struck out over forty percent of the batters he faced, giving up only five hits in thirty innings pitched. He was obviously too good for that level.
dominant this season. They are no slouches though. All were high draft picks, all are older than Bundy, and for both Sanchez and Syndergaard it was their third season of pro ball. In fact, both Nicolino and Syndergaard finished off the 2011 season in Lansing.
So the question remains. Why were these guys kept in A ball for the entire 2012 season?
I’ve unsuccessfully scoured the internet looking for any official strategy for the three from the Jays. I have also tried to think for the Jays. I can’t come up with a logical explanation. The trio were piggy-backing to start the season helping manage their work load. But once that was finished, innings could have been counted at any level. Lansing won the first half flag and thus guaranteed themselves a playoff spot. The Jays have always said they like their prospects to get post-season experience. But again, this could have been accomplished in Dunedin, as they had also clinched a berth in the playoffs.
I don’t think you can argue the three didn’t have good enough years to get promoted. At times throughout the season, their performances were just as good as Bundy’s. From the reading I have done, they all have deficiencies that need work: Syndergaard with his secondary pitches, Sanchez has control issues, and Nicolino, despite being the most polished of the three, could use a few extra ticks on his fastball. However, all minor leaguers need work, otherwise they wouldn’t be minor leaguers. The Florida State League, with the big ballparks and heavy air, would have been an ideal spot to test them against a higher caliber of hitter, while still working on any weaknesses.
Whatever the reason, and whether you agree or disagree with management’s decision (admittedly, I found it a bit odd), the season is over now. There is no point speculating on what could have been accomplished if the three had been promoted. Next year will be telling though. Injuries and poor form have left us with question marks throughout 2013′s rotation. I suppose you can pencil in Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow for two of the spots. With Romero’s struggles this year, however, I’d say he’s more of a question mark than a certainty. And with Morrow’s injury history, you can also pencil him in for a spell on the D.L., meaning a replacement at some point will be needed.
The Jays brass have, once again, prioritized starting pitching for this off-season. However, no matter how aggressive they are, Toronto are not the only team who will be looking to fill holes in their starting staff. It’d be nice if the Jays could land a front line starter through free agency, but I am not going to hold my breath. The trade market may be a more realistic route, which, of course, means one or more of the Lansing trio could be pitching for another organization next season. I’m not one for making predictions so let’s write this piece in a vacuum and assume all three are in Dunedin for spring training next year.
So, what would happen then? Drew Hutchison was twenty-one, the same age Sanchez and Syndergaard will turn in 2013 (Nicolino turns 21 in November), when he was promoted twice, ending the season at double-A New Hampshire. We all know what happened next. After a brief double-A warmup in 2012 he was pitching in Toronto before feeling a twinge in his elbow. Will Hutchison’s rapid rise and subsequent season ending injury give rise to an even more conservative approach, if that is possible, with their young arms?
If I were a betting man, the Lansing Three begin the year with Dunedin. If they stay there for more than, say, a third of the season then things have gone wrong. Either they are pitching well and the Jays are wrapping them in cotton wool, or they are struggling. Both scenarios make me feel ill.
If I was running the Jays I’d have them in Double-A out of the chute. Now that the Jays have signed an affiliation agreement with Buffalo, double-A is not the springboard to the big club it has been the last few years. If they pitch well, there is another level of seasoning available.
If you estimate a twenty to twenty-five percent increase in their innings totals next season, Aaron Sanchez tops out at 110, Syndergaard at 125 and Nicolino around 150. Limiting their starts to five innings for first quarter to third of the season will manage their workload and at least allow the possibility (remote as it may be) of a September call-up. This would be the ultimate in best case scenario. At the very least, the Lansing Three need to build on this season, moving through a couple of levels in 2013.
Sanchez, Syndergaard, and Nicolino were one of the few positives in what has been a disappointing year throughout the Jays organization. 2013 needs to see the three forcing management to remove the shackles.
Allowing for a future handicap match, with the Lansing Three in one corner and Dylan Bundy in the other.