Since seeing Taijuan Walker last week in Chattanooga, the requests for comparisons between the young right-hander and fellow uber-prospect Dylan Bundy of the Orioles have been coming hot and heavy. The exercise of choosing between the two best pitching prospects in baseball (for me at least) is essentially splitting hairs. Does one prefer velocity or movement? Tall or short? Ceiling or floor? Ask ten industry sources and the vote would likely be split down the middle with each having a perfectly reasonable explanation for wanting one over the other. It’s a scenario where there really is no correct answer, only speculation based on experience and personal preference.
In recent weeks, I’m one of the fortunate few who have seen both Dylan Bundy and Taijuan Walker in person. Reports with video on both are linked below.
Nearly the same age, Bundy checks in as 3-months Walker’s junior. In baseball years, each is playing his age-19 season which will inevitably link them forever more. As for age-versus-level considerations, Walker has been in the Mariners system longer and has put that time to good use by advancing to the upper levels of the organization’s minor league system. Bundy is playing catch up on paper, but has already advanced to High-A and few doubt his ability to handle Double-A if/when the call comes in 2012. In terms of ETA, both pitchers should surface at the major league level at about the same time.
In terms of projection, the discussion of floor-versus-ceiling is where Walker and Bundy diverge. Walker may have the highest ceiling and Bundy the highest floor in all of minor league baseball. At 6-foot-4, Walker is the most physically projectable pitcher I’ve seen in person combining elite athleticism with a picture perfect pitcher’s frame that should fill out at physical maturity. And while the strength may not be there for him to maintain his velocity through seven innings or more right now, it’s only a matter of time as long as Walker stays healthy and fill out his frame. In fact, his adding 30 additional pounds in time may result in even more velocity for Walker.
On the opposite end of the baseball spectrum, Bundy is a pitcher who appears to be able to maintain a mid-90’s fastball for as long as he chooses. Listed at 6-foot-1, he’s the epitome of “country strong” and presents as a human pitching machine. With present polish and stuff that’s already off the charts, Bundy will be in Baltimore as soon as he shows consistency at the upper levels and the organization builds up his innings totals. However, Bundy may be close to maxed out physically raising the question of just how much better he will become if there’s no room to add additional velocity.
This is not to say Dylan Bundy has a low ceiling and Taijuan Walker a low floor. Quite the opposite actually. But if you concede Walker has the highest ceiling and Bundy the highest floor in minor league baseball, deciding between the two hinges on the perceived risk of the less polished product (Walker) and whether it is worth sacrificing the safety associated with Bundy. For this, there is truly no correct answer.
Speaking from experience as somebody who sold out for ceiling my first couple of years writing about prospects, my personal scouting beliefs have shifted from “crunchy” progressive occupying Wall Street to Tea Party conservative at a town hall meeting bickering over an extra $20 in property taxes. This shift in thought process comes after seeing a number of high ceiling prospects crash and burn, while other players I’ve shrugged off have gone on to become big leaguers, if not quality ones at that.
With that in mind, Dylan Bundy would be my choice for baseball’s top pitching prospect, if not the best prospect in baseball, period. The decision was made after conceding Bundy’s floor matches Walker’s ceiling and canceling out both extreme strengths. This left me comparing Bundy’s ceiling versus Walker’s floor and my belief more could go wrong with Walker’s development due to his needing to add polish and minor concerns about arm action and effort in his delivery.
Taijuan Walker is fantastic, but Dylan Bundy is the pitching prospect who I’ve heard repeatedly referred to as, “The best I’ve ever seen” by contacts and acquaintances who have seen him in person. And while pitching prospects are the most volatile of baseball commodities, my hope is to see this discussion continue for the next decade or two as each grows into a franchise pillar for the Mariners and Orioles respectively.