What Happened In 2017: Made an encouraging comeback and his major league debut after Tommy John surgery caused him to miss most of 2016.
Walker Buehler was the Dodgers’ first-round draft pick in 2015 out of Vanderbilt University, but needed Tommy John surgery shortly after he signed his $1.78 million deal.
Dustin ranked ranked Buehler as the 5th-best prospect in the system heading into 2017, even after throwing just five innings in his first professional season (2016), and his season ended up being quite encouraging.
Buehler began the season at High-A Rancho Cucamonga. He dominated there to the tune of a 1.10 ERA and 1.71 FIP in 16 1/3 innings. He got a quick promotion to Double-A Tulsa, where he spent the majority of his 2017. He posted a 3.49 ERA and 2.95 FIP in the Texas League. That earned him a promotion to Triple-A Oklahoma City, where he had a 4.63 ERA and 2.78 FIP. He made just three starts there because of a late-season shift to the bullpen in preparation for a potential postseason role. Overall in the minors, he went 3-3 with a 3.35 ERA and 1.105 WHIP in 28 games (19 starts) across three levels of the Dodgers’ minor league system in 2017. He impressively struck out 125 batters in 88 2/3 innings with 31 walks before being called up for his cup of coffee as a reliever.
The 23-year-old was called up on Sept. 6, and he made his MLB debut with the Dodgers on Sept. 7, pitching two scoreless innings against the Colorado Rockies and striking out Charlie Blackmon no less.
While he wasn’t great with the Dodgers, statistically, he showed why people are so high on the youngster. He allowed eight runs on 11 hits and walked eight while striking out a dozen over 9 1/3 innings in eight games.
There was some conjecture surrounding Buehler’s chance of making the Dodgers’ NLDS roster, but he ultimately did not pitch at all in the playoffs for Los Angeles.
The top pitching prospect recently told Andy McCullough of the Los Angeles Times that he has a “new arm”.
“I have a new ligament,” Buehler said. “I have a new arm. I have new kind of arsenal. It’s a different world now. But I’ve done it before. We’ll see how it goes.”
Buehler certainly will have every opportunity to succeed with the Dodgers in 2018, and he very well may fill an important role as the front office continues to look to shed expense.
Eno Sarris of FanGraphs compared Buehler to Alex Cobb who also had a high-spin fastball and solid curveball combination in his pitching arsenal.
“Buehler is in the top 10% when it comes to drop. His riding fastball and huge curveball are a great combo in that the ride on the former improves the perceived drop on the latter. He’s in the top 10% when it comes to curve velocity; even if he loses a tick when he steps into the rotation, it’ll be a strength. He’s in the top 20% in spin and, maybe in a related matter, every single curve that was put in play was a grounder.”
Finally, Buehler was named the Branch Rickey Minor League Pitcher Of The Year by the Dodgers.
2018 Status: Pre-arb with three option years remaining. Buehler will return to starting in 2018, and he could join the Dodgers’ rotation at some point during the season.