Every Friday we will be doing a profile and analysis of a farmhand for the Dodgers. We will look at their background, the future projections scouts generally have on them, associated risk with them booming or busting, and then our personal take on what they will most likely become as a ball player. We will do one a week up until pitchers and catchers report, and will be counting down our top ten prospects (more or less who we see to be our top ten).
Today we are covering our #1 prospect, the one and only, Walker Buehler.
- Name: Walker Buehler
- DOB/Age: July 28th, 1994 / 23 years old
- Height/Weight: 6’2″ / 175lbs
- Home State/Country: Kentucky
- Highest Level Reached: Majors
- On the 40-Man Roster: Yes
- ETA: Now
Other Notable Rankings
- Baseball America: #1
- Baseball Prospectus: #1
- MLB.com: #1
- TrueBlueLA: #1
- Dodgers Digest: #1
(1-10, with 1 being very low, and 10 being very high)
2 – Walker Buehler is easily the consensus #1 prospect in our system currently, and for good reason. Not only does he have an extremely high ceiling, but he also has a high floor. The type of ceiling we are talking about is a fringe-ace to ace type pitcher with four plus or better, pitches, and no less than two plus-plus pitches. Given his fastball and curveball are already rated as plus-plus offerings, even if he doesn’t reach his ceiling he could easily still be an effective #3 or #4 starter. Even if he isn’t durable enough to start he could easily slide into a high-leverage, late-inning reliever role and excel there. Bottom-line is that Buehler has minimal overall risk and tons of reward in him.
Drafted in 2015 out of Vanderbilt, Walker Buehler was the Dodgers’ 1st round pick that year. When he was drafted the Dodgers saw him mostly as a well-developed collegiate starter with three to four average or better pitches. During his time at Vanderbilt he worked mostly in the low to mid 90’s with his fastball, sometimes reaching back to hit high 90’s. He actually entered that year as higher rated than even fellow Vanderbilt draftees Dansby Swanson and Carson Fulmer. But he injured his elbow, and fortunately fell to the Dodgers at number 24 overall. Unfortunately though that elbow injury prompted Tommy John surgery for him, which took him out for all 2015 and most of 2016. Once he did return in late 2016, it looked as if he had missed no time at all.
Immediately he was catching the eye of scouts everywhere by consistently hitting the upper 90’s with his fastball. In 2016 he only threw 5 innings, but his Instructional League sessions were enough to vault him into many top 100 lists. His fastball was harder with incredible movement, his curveball looked sharper, and his slider looked even better.
Coming into the 2017 season, Walker Buehler had high expectations and he certainly did not disappoint. Opening the season at A+ Rancho Cucamonga, he made it all the way to the big league club by years end. Throughout the season, he absolutely overwhelmed hitters at each level in the Minor Leagues. He pitched to a tune of a 3.35 ERA and struck out a whopping 125 batters in only 88.2 innings, for strikeout rate of 12.7 batters per 9 innings. As stated above, all four of his pitches looked like they had become even better. His fastball was sitting at 96-99mph, his curve was sharp with devastating break, the slider was hard, and he could at times morph it into a deadly cutter. Even his change-up was showing signs of becoming a plus pitch as well.
Just take a look at how off-balance his curveball made reigning NL batting title champion Charlie Blackmon look:
By the end of 2017 you could easily say that Walker Buehler had four average or better pitches, with two definitely showing as plus-plus pitches: his fastball and curveball. Recently we covered how MLB.com profiled Buehler and his pitch arsenal. They stated he has an 70 grade (elite level) fastball and also have his curveball rated close behind at 65. That curve checks in as one of the best among prospects. Additionally, his slider is currently a 60, and his change up is a 50. All these pitches checked in at 65, 60, 55, and 50 last year. If you could say 2017 brought high expectations for Buehler, certainly 2018 has even higher ones.
We arrive now in 2018. Walker Buehler has made his debut and despite a so-so showing, he certainly is ready for The Show. Because of this the Dodgers are in a bit of a pickle. With a fully loaded starting rotation and more depth beyond the current starting five, Buehler doesn’t have a direct path to getting full-time reps. And like Julio Urias, the Dodgers have been careful with his pitch counts and innings. Depending on how the back-end of the rotation (i.e. Maeda and Ryu) pan out early in the season, it may be Buehler-time come mid-season. Not unlike Juliomania arriving in mid-2016.
There are a few paths for Buehler to take. First is the above mentioned path where Maeda and/or Ryu don’t perform well enough in the rotation, and Buehler is lights out at AAA. The second would be Buehler becoming a deadly multi-inning weapon in the bullpen similar to Maeda late last season. And lastly, Buehler will spend the majority of the season at AAA building innings, and refining his control. All that with the ultimate hope that he makes a solid case as a September call-up to be added to the postseason roster.
2018 is going to be an exciting season for Buehler, and we are all along for the ride with him.
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