For almost a month now, there have been whispers around the Dodgers‘ clubhouse regarding a possible big league promotion for pitching prospect Walker Buehler sometime after rosters expand in the beginning of September. If it does indeed happen, it’s a move that would be beneficial twofold — an opportunity to provide a small break for the Los Angeles pitching staff, but perhaps more importantly, a chance to boost Buehler’s pace of development with the organization moving forward.
Buehler is another one of those players who has impressively climbed across three levels of the farm in one single season. However, he was very much expected to succeed, unlike the storybook tales of the rises of players like Andrew Toles and Brock Stewart. Buehler was valued so highly that he was selected in the first round of the 2015 MLB Draft out of Vanderbilt, even though the Dodgers knew he was destined for Tommy John surgery not long after he signed with the club.
His recovery from surgery went so well that he was able to join Single-A Great Lakes for the stretch run of the 2016 campaign. The Dodgers were impressed with his maturity level early, allowing him to start a Cactus League game during spring training late last March against the Reds.
Beginning his 2017 campaign at High-A Rancho Cucamonga, the 22-year-old Kentucky native made five starts and threw 16-1/3 innings, posting a 1.10 ERA and a whopping 14.9 K/9. He was then quickly ushered to Double-A Tulsa where he went 2-2 in 11 starts over 49 innings, registering a 3.65 ERA with 64 strikeouts, and was named Texas League Pitcher of the Week for the final week of June after dealing 10-1/3 scoreless innings of shutout ball with 17 punch outs over two starts.
After the mid-season prospect rankings were releases a few weeks back, Buehler was listed as the Dodgers’ new No. 1 prospect by all of the major publications.
In mid July, he was bumped up to Triple-A Oklahoma City, but was a bit shaky in his first start against Memphis, giving up four runs on two hits and three walks, and was chased from the game before he was able to record an out. Nevertheless, in his subsequent start on Wednesday evening, Buehler’s true colors showed through, as the righty surrendered only one run on one hit and two walks while striking out nine over five innings in Triple-A Oklahoma City’s victory over Reno.
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 — an arsenal that certainly has the potential to play big at the major league level in either a starting pitching role or a relief capacity.
Buehler would need to be placed on the club’s 40-man roster in order to be brought up to the bigs, though. even after the rosters expand in September. It shouldn’t be too difficult to finagle the roster to create a spot for him, especially after the trade deadline passes by early next week and the 40-man begins to take a firmer shape.
In the end, despite the fact that the Dodgers will be gearing up for a successful playoff run, a promotion for Buehler wouldn’t come with lofty expectations, as a few regular season appearances would be more for the purpose of his own development rather than the success of the team. Still, considering how he handled the Aces last Wednesday in Oklahoma City, there’s no question he’s primed for a successful MLB debut.
(Photo Credit: Jeremy Davis)