Los Angeles Dodgers prospect Walker Buehler made his major league debut last night against the Colorado Rockies, throwing two shutout relief innings, allowing one hit with two strikeouts. He also hit 100 MPH, which certainly gets your attention, but Buehler is about more than flashy radar readings.
An ace at Vanderbilt University, Buehler was in contention to be a top five pick in the 2015 draft but fell to 24th overall after it became apparent that he needed Tommy John surgery. He pitched just five innings in 2016 following rehab, but still ranked eighth on the pre-season Los Angeles Dodgers Top 20 prospects for 2017 list, with this comment:
8) Walker Buehler, RHP, Grade B/B-: Age 22, first round pick in 2015 from Vanderbilt; had Tommy John surgery after signing, came back in ’16 and threw five shutout innings late in season in rookie ball and Low-A; threw 90-95 MPH fastball in college but after surgery he’s reportedly at 94-97 with peaks at 99; strong secondaries with cutter and curveball both plus, also showed solid change-up in college as well as command; main issue now is stamina/workload and how much of the new velocity he retains; grade cautious until we get those answers. ETA 2018.
There’s less reason to be cautious now: Buehler’s 2017 season was a resounding success with a 3.35 ERA in 89 innings between High-A, Double-A, and Triple-A with a 125/31 K/BB and just 67 hits allowed. Note the extremely high strikeout rate, courtesy of a 94-100 MPH fastball and a set of strong secondary pitches.
Buehler is listed at 6-2, 175, born July 28th, 1994. As noted he threw 90-95 in college but has shown improved velocity since surgery, without loss of command. The high whiff rate is not lying about the quality of his stuff. His curveball and cutter/slider are plus offerings and his change-up is at least average. Competitiveness, work ethic, intelligence, and mound presence are also big positives.
The Dodgers will use him as a reliever down the stretch but long-term he certainly has the stuff to start. There’s still some question about how he’ll manage a full MLB workload; even in college he never went past 102 innings pitched. Even with that caveat on the table, Buehler is a premium pitching prospect.