When the Guggenheim Partners took over control of the Dodgers in 2012, they set forth a clear vision for the future of the club. While they intended to initially spend significant money to piece together a winning roster, they did not view that as a blueprint for sustained success. Current team President Stan Kasten had a much different idea in mind for the team, and it started with building from within.
“Deep into my core, I’m a scouting and player development guy and we will emphasize that even more here,” said Kasten. “You’ve got to have homegrown talent.” It was this same formula that Kasten implemented when he was the president of an Atlanta Braves franchise that won 14 consecutive division titles, five National League pennants and a World Series title in 1995.
In the past few years, Dodger fans have become familiar with some of the homegrown talent that has been developed with one thought in mind-bringing a World Series title back to Los Angeles. Corey Seager, Joc Pederson, Julio Urias and most recently Cody Bellinger have all burst onto the scene, carrying with them lofty expectations that helped propel the farm system to national prominence.
— Steven Van Worth (@JSVanWorthJr) May 23, 2017
The Dodgers are hoping that the next in line is Walker Buehler, their first-round pick in 2015. During his Sophomore year at Vanderbilt, Buehler established himself as one of the top arms in college, posting a 12-2 record with a 2.64 era in 19 games, leading his team to the College World Series title. Although his statistics took a minor step back his Junior season, the Dodgers were happy to take him with the 24th overall pick in the draft.
Almost instantly, it was revealed that Buehler would need Tommy John surgery, a procedure that would sideline him for a minimum of 12 months. Many fans questioned the decision to draft Buehler and already viewed him as a bust. All he has done since his return is prove those naysayers wrong. He has come back throwing harder than ever before, putting up numbers rarely seen at the Minor-League level. After his return from Tommy John surgery, Buehler only threw five total innings in 2016 in his professional debut.
There is still very little data available for how quickly a pitcher should return from this procedure and the Dodgers decided to take a very cautious approach with him. In 2017, Buehler started the year at Rancho Cucamonga in the hitter-friendly California League and absolutely dominated the competition in his 16 1/3 innings. He allowed only 8 hits and 3 total runs (2 earned) while striking out 27 batters and only walking 5.
To no one’s surprise, that earned him a promotion. On Friday, May 12th, he made his much-anticipated Double-A debut in Tulsa and showed the kind of stuff that placed him in Baseball America’s top 100 overall prospects in all of baseball. It appeared that he started the night amped up, missing high with his fastball that was sitting in the high 90s.
However, he settled down and averted any trouble until the third inning, when he allowed 2 runs. But it was also reported that Buehler unleashed 2 fastballs that inning that registered 100 mph on the radar gun at ONEOK Field. Buehler finished the night throwing a career high four innings (the Dodgers have been very slow with his development as he returns from surgery), allowing 6 hits, 2 runs walking 1 and striking out 3 Northwest Arkansas batters.
His fastball held velocity for the duration of his start while also displaying a plus curveball that sat around 80 mph. Most importantly, it appears that Buehler came out of his start healthy, and in this stage of his development, that is the key.
If he keeps putting up such strong numbers, he is going to put the Dodgers in a really interesting position for the rest of 2017. The most likely path is for Buehler to throw 90-100 total innings this year before being shut down in anticipation for a strong 2018 run. Although his future appears to be as a starter, one interesting idea would be for Buehler to join the Dodgers bullpen late this year. This would allow him to keep an innings limit while also getting exposure to Major League hitters.
His plus fastball and curveball could be very effective outof the bullpenin high leverage situations if he is put in that position. It is going to be fascinating to see what the front office decides to do with Buehler and the extreme talent and potential he holds in his right arm. One thing is for sure, as Walker Buehler works his way through the Dodgers’ minor league system, he will be following the path of many homegrown Dodgers on the current roster, and should soon become a household name.
@TulsaDrillers manager Ryan Garko on RHP Walker Buehler's start Monday:`They hit a lot of ground balls that found holes. He did a good job.'
— Barry Lewis (@BarryLewisTW) May 22, 2017
***Update: Buehler made a second start in Tulsa on Wednesday, May 17th and was flat out dominant. In 3 innings he allowed 3 hits and 1 walk while strikingout 9 batters.
On May 22nd, Buehler made his third AA start and although he ran into a little more trouble, he still finished with a solid stat line: 4 innings pitched, 6 hits allowed and 2 earned runs. He finished the day with 2 walks and 2 strikeouts.
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