It’s never safe to make assumptions off such a small sample size — say, two innings of Arizona Rookie League ball — but Walker Buehler‘s professional debut on Tuesday was quite impressive.
Buehler was the Dodgers’ 2015 1st-round pick who slipped in the draft and ultimately needed Tommy John surgery shortly after signing his $1.78 million, below-slot deal on July 17, 2015. After being a guy who worked in the low-90s consistently in college (and touched 96 MPH), it was anyone’s guess what his velocity would be coming back from TJ. I’ll let a couple of prospect writers/scouts who watched his debut tell the story.
So Buehler was 95-97, touched 98 on one gun, slider/cutter 91-93, curveball looks great.
— Eric Longenhagen (@longenhagen) August 24, 2016
2 perfect inn for Walker Buehler (3 Ks). FB 96-98, low 90s cutter and good curveball. #Dodgers
— Bill Mitchell (@billazbbphotog) August 24, 2016
Well, isn’t that something. Buehler, in a limited outing, had more velocity in this debut than he did when he was in college. He has also developed a cut fastball since turning pro. He was mostly a fastball-curveball pitcher in college, but if he can develop that cutter and improve his changeup, he might very well be a mid-rotation starter — if not better.
I ranked Buehler at No. 13 in my preseason Top 100 and 16 in my midseason Top 30, mostly because of guys who jumped up with Buehler on the shelf. But if he shows more of this going forward, he’s going to catapult into the Top 10 and likely the Top 5. With the Dodgers graduating Corey Seager and Julio Urias and moving Grant Holmes and Frankie Montas, the door is wide open for Buehler to walk through and become one of the best pitching prospects in the system. I wouldn’t rank him ahead of Jose De Leon or Yadier Alvarez just yet, but it can be argued he has as much — if not more — talent and potential than those two.
This is where the second wave of Dodger prospects is really going to come into play. Graduating elite-level guys like Seager and Urias is going to have a negative impact on the system on the whole, but scouting and development could help the Dodgers find the next great prospects in the system. They probably won’t be on the level of Seager and/or Urias, but there is still plenty of value in guys who aren’t the best of the best.
Encouraging debut for Buehler. He’ll be a guy to follow through the rest of the season and over the winter — either in instructs or in the Arizona Fall League (not holding my breath for that). He could be in store for a big 2017 season.