The Orioles' farm system suffered a blow last June when right-hander Dylan Bundy underwent Tommy John surgery, sealing 2013 as a lost season for the former first-round pick.
But as it turns out, the setback wasn't enough to prevent Bundy from maintaining his status as one of the game's elite prospects and the leader of a strong group of young Baltimore arms.
When MLB.com revealed its new Top 100 Prospects list Thursday night on MLB Network, Bundy led the charge for the O's, at No. 20. Fellow righty Kevin Gausman was close on his heels at No. 31, and southpaw Eduardo Rodriguez came in at No. 68. While injury caused Bundy to drop from No. 2 on last year's list, Gausman rose six spots, and Rodriguez joined the list for the first time.
The annual ranking of baseball's biggest and brightest young talent is assembled by MLBPipeline.com Draft and prospect experts Jonathan Mayo and Jim Callis, who compile input from industry sources, including scouts and scouting directors. It is based on analysis of players' skill sets, upsides, proximity to the Majors and potential immediate impact to their teams. The list, which is one of several prospect rankings on MLBPipeline.com's Prospect Watch, only includes players with rookie status in 2014.
The Orioles' three representatives on the list -- one more than last year -- gives them 184 "prospect points," a total that comes from each spot being assigned a point value, with No. 1 getting 100, No. 2 getting 99, and so forth. Only eight clubs collected more points than Baltimore, with Boston as the only American League East team.
Bundy's place on the list after missing a full season -- and with another half-season of rehab likely remaining -- speaks to his tremendous talent, successful track record and reputation as an extremely hard worker. The No. 4 overall pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, Bundy demolished his Minor League competition in '12 before making a brief big league debut as a 19-year-old that September.
However, nothing went according to plan in 2013. Bundy last threw off a mound in March before being shut down with what was diagnosed as right flexor mass tightness. His rehab was interrupted by discomfort in June, when a re-evaluation revealed a partially torn ligament in his right elbow, requiring surgery.
With a recovery time of about a year, Bundy could be back to give the O's a lift in the second half of this season. The 21-year-old attended the team's minicamp in Sarasota, Fla., last week, where reports indicate he continued his rehab by throwing off flat ground from a distance of 60 feet.
"He can be better than he was prior to the injury," Orioles farm director Brian Graham told Callis earlier this offseason. "He's a special kid with special makeup and a special arm. I'm certain we'll be conservative with him, but at the same time, he wants to come back and pitch."
While Gausman stayed healthy, last season didn't come without challenges. In his first full professional campaign, the No. 4 pick in the 2012 Draft quickly ascended to the Majors, debuting as a 22-year-old on May 23. He experienced a rude welcome, posting a 7.66 ERA and allowing a .333 opponents' average over five starts.
While Gausman didn't make another start for the O's, he returned for two stints as a reliever and seemed to find his comfort level, with a 3.52 ERA and a .205 opponents' average over 15 appearances. The LSU product finished the season with a dominant seven-game stretch that included a Sept. 18 appearance at Fenway Park in which he struck out five of six batters over two perfect innings.
Gausman will enter Spring Training as a candidate for Baltimore's starting rotation, looking to carry over his late-season success.
"I feel like I really learned how to pitch coming out of the bullpen," Gausman told MLB.com recently. "I know what it takes to get guys out on a consistent basis, and now rather than doing it for two innings, I have to do it for six and seven and eight. I'm going to build on how I ended last season."
Adding some left-handed flavor to the Bundy-Gausman duo, Rodriguez raised his stock considerably last year. The Venezuela native, who turns 21 in April, began his season at Class A Advanced Frederick, earned a midseason promotion to Double-A Bowie, was selected for the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game in New York and pitched in the Arizona Fall League.
Rodriguez made 25 starts between the two levels, posting a 3.41 ERA over 145 innings, with 125 strikeouts, 49 walks and a .241 opponents' average. He also finished strong at Bowie, going 3-0 with a 0.36 ERA and a 26-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio across his final four outings.
That performance helped make Rodriguez the No. 6 lefty prospect in the game, giving the Orioles an exciting trio of arms to headline their farm system going into 2014.