The last time we checked on the progress of Dodgers‘ pitching prospect Walker Buehler, the young righty was coming off a successful return to the bump, having contributed to the postseason success of Low-A Great Lakes after missing more than a year recovering from Tommy John surgery.
During this past spring, he made himself known to fans throughout Cactus League play, and began the regular season at High-A Rancho Cucamonga, where he posted a 1.10 ERA over five starts and 16-1/3 innings, striking out a whopping 27 opposing batters in the process. Upon earning a promotion to Double-A Tulsa just last week, the 22-year-old Kentucky native endured four full innings of work against Northwest Arkansas, and eventually went on to strike out nine batters in his second appearance in 3-2/3 frames facing Springfield on Wednesday evening.
In seven combined starts for Rancho and Tulsa this season, he has now struck out 39 batters in only 24 innings pitched.
After Buehler led Vanderbilt to the 2014 College World Series Championship and starred with the U.S. collegiate national team, he entered 2015 as the top-rated prospect on the Commodores. He probably would have been a top-five pick in the 2015 draft, but fell to the 24th overall pick amidst reports that he required Tommy John surgery, which he later had that August. Still, the Dodgers didn’t hesitate in selecting him.
As far as his pitching repertoire goes, Buehler can crank up his four-seam to a hefty 98 MPH, miss bats with his plus-plus slider and curve, and fool the best of hitters with his high quality changeup. Most importantly, with the blink of an eye, he quite certainly has elevated to the Dodgers’ top pitching tier, and could very well be considered one of those “untouchable” prospects in the very near future.
After a very productive spring training, though, Buehler and the coaching staff decided to steer away from the slider a bit, instead focusing more and polishing his three bread-and-butter offerings.
“This spring, we’ve kind of moved into that three-pitch mix and slowed down on the slider, slowed down on the two-seamer and kind of worked with some numbers, seeing what we can do fastball-curveball-change,” Buehler explained to reporters just before the beginning of the regular season. “The slider’s something I’ve thrown forever, but I think there’s the idea of renting a couple or owning a couple or owning one. At least for the spring right now, it’s just the three pitches.”
When we composed our initial profile of Buehler this past January, we guessed that he’d begin the season with Rancho and likely earn a promotion to Tulsa by the end of 2017. While we definitely got both parts right, the climb to Double-A happened at about the five-week mark of the season, much sooner than many pundits expected.
Looking ahead, the pitcher-friendly confines of the Texas League should play very well into Buehler’s favor as his 2017 campaign progresses. At his current rate of advancement, a cup of coffee in the big leagues sometime during 2018 could very well be on his radar.
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