"I was ticked off the entire time," he said.
"That first pitch was high."
Bundy is at the elite end of the state of the art of pitching, the embodiment of what can be wrought from advances in training, nutrition, instruction and travel baseball. (For three summers starting at age 15 he would leave home alone to pitch for a team in Texas.) As a power pitcher who profiles as an ace, he represents the greatest asset a team can hold. Simultaneously, he represents enormous risk. Using a 20-year sample between 1981 and 2000, pitchers drafted and signed out of high school in the first round were more likely to never pitch a day in the big leagues (43%) than they were to reach 20 career wins (34%).
Raising Bundy is both thrilling and perilous for the Orioles. With $6.25 million—his signing bonus—already invested in him, how do they develop a great high school pitcher into one of the rare, durable aces?
THERE IS NO SPORTS GENUS with a greater risk-reward ratio than high school pitchers. Like supermodels, they look great, but the chances of entering into a long-term relationship with one are slim. Teams keep drafting them for their visceral gifts, but the toll of throwing so hard so young, their incomplete physical development and the few opportunities to measure them against top competition leave teams spending millions on veritable lottery tickets.
Major league teams signed 102 high school pitchers taken in the first round from 1981 through 2000 (not including supplemental first-round picks). Yet only 15 of those 102 pitchers won 20 games for the team that drafted them, a group that included Dwight Gooden, Roy Halladay, CC Sabathia and Josh Beckett. For every one of those brass rings, there were three total busts. Of those 102 high school first-rounders, 44 never reached the majors.
"Generally they are high risk/high reward," says Padres G.M. Josh Byrnes, who used three first-round picks this year, including supplemental choices, on high school pitchers. "We realize there is some power in numbers. Hopefully one or two deliver."
When Duquette was the general manager of the Red Sox, he used his first-round pick on a high school pitcher three times in a five-year period (1995--99). None of them reached the big leagues. "The volume of failure is great," Duquette says about the industry's track record with high school pitchers. "That's really sobering, especially when people say they're experts."