Mark Buehrle (AP photo)
Prospect Retrospective: Mark Buehrle
Mark Buehrle was drafted in the 38th round in 1998, from Jefferson Junior College in Missouri. Signed as a draft and follow, his made his pro debut in 1999 for Burlington in the Midwest League, being used as a swingman. He went 7-4 with a 4.10 ERA, with a 91/18 K/BB in 99 innings, allowing 105 hits.
I did not put him in the 2000 book. Although his K/BB for Burlington was impressive, he gave up more than a hit per inning, and although I had not seen him in person, a Midwest League source told me his stuff was very mediocre. He was a Grade C prospect at that point, like a hundred other guys; not everyone of them makes the book due to space limits.
Buehrle moved up rapidly in 2000. He began the year in Double-A, pitched brilliantly in 16 starts (8-4, 2.28 ERA), showing excellent command with a 68/17 K/BB ratio in 119 innings. That summer he has promoted to the White Sox to work as a swingman in the bullpen in the second half of the year. At one point late that summer, I remember a reader asked me if Buehrle was worth investing in. I'd just seen him pitch recently for the Sox and had not been impressed. "Probably not," was my answer, based on what looked to me like very mediocre stuff, plus a low strikeout ratio. Even in Double-A his K/IP was well below Southern League average, and I was convinced that the hitters would catch up with him quickly.
A year later, Buehrle won 16 games, and has been a consistent and effective inning-eating starter ever since.
What happened here? Is this a case of a Grade C prospect made good, or was I just flat wrong?
It's a bit of both. Looking over Buehrle's track record in retrospect, the best number that stands out is his very low walk rate in the minors, giving him a sound overall K/BB. His K/IP rate was good in the Midwest League, but I was turned off by his relatively high ERA, mediocre H/IP, and "weak stuff" report from a trusted source. In Double-A, his walk rate remained very impressive, and a 2.28 ERA mark was sharp for anyone, let alone someone making the jump from the Midwest League. But his K/IP was weak, and he didn't look very good when I saw him in person.
Putting all that together, he didn't look anything special to me, yet he's certainly turned out that way. Sometimes you just miss them.
As for Buerhle's future, here are a list of Comparable Pitchers, based on Sim Score and PECOTA (no active pitchers).
Most Similar Pitchers to Mark Buehrle through Age 25
That's a list of quality pitchers.