Dodgers Prospect Watch: What Lies Ahead for Walker Buehler in 2018?

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This year feels slightly different in one area for the Dodgers. In the last couple years, the Dodgers have had an excess of starting pitchers. Not necessarily pitchers that were top-of-the-line, but pitchers they thought maybe could help them throughout the year. They knew they had issues, and they were just hoping for the best. But this year there doesn’t seem to be a true excess of pitching waiting in the wings to step up if one or two pitchers happen to go down.

And the Dodgers have had a lot of pitching go down. Mostly because they were signing guys with known history of injury, but even Clayton Kershaw has had to deal with back issues each of the last few seasons. (I’m looking at you, Australia trip). And so this remains the area I am most worried about heading into the season.

Yesterday, Ben covered what could happen in the bullpen now that Tom Koehler is going to be out a good portion of the season due to an injury in his bicep. The Dodgers have quite a few options available in the bullpen, and at this moment, I think they’ll be fine in that capacity.

But the state of the Dodgers starting pitching staff still worries me. I’m not worried in particular about the performance of most of the pitchers that they do have, rather who will step up to take the place if someone needs to go on a 10-day DL stint, or God forbid, longer. Kershaw, Rich Hill and Alex Wood should be good to replicate their seasons from last year. Even if there is a slight regression from Wood, I’m still not worried. Kenta Maeda is coming off a prolonged period where he dominated as a reliever, and Hyun-Jin Ryu is working his way back to pitching full time after spending so long on the shelf. Both are worth keeping an eye on as the season progresses. Julio Urias will be back at some point, but there could still be questions with him, too.

Who would be next man up to fill a starter pitcher’s slot? Brock Stewart could be stretched out to go four to five innings. Same goes for Ross Stripling. But maybe, it’ll be Walker Buehler, moving up sooner than later.

Today Dave Roberts told reporters that his innings could be increased to as many as 140-150 on the season, up from 98 last season. Those innings would again be split between the minors, majors and the postseason. Buehler has his first outing of the spring today, pitching in the ‘B’ game at Camelback Ranch. He threw one inning and allowed a triple, but otherwise struck out the side. Afterwards, he told reporters he is working on his slider this spring to make it “bigger,” to make it look like like a cutter. Alanna Rizzo reported that Orel Hershiser told her that Buehler’s spray pattern is tighter, and he’s landing his breaking ball.

“We don’t know how this spring is going to play out,” Roberts said Monday. “We know he’s going to pitch meaningful innings for us at the Major League level. We don’t know when. If Walker’s healthy, good things are going to happen for him and for us. As far as kind of where this happens, I think that part is going to play itself out.”

I’d still like to see the front office get another starting pitcher, allowing Buehler time to work up to more innings, and as an insurance policy against inevitable injuries. Using the ‘cheaper’ option in Buehler could appeal to them, although he already has one Tommy John surgery, so pushing him isn’t in their best interest. Staying under the luxury tax seems to be their intention at the moment, while keeping as many prospects as possible. I’ll guess I’ll just have to keep trusting in their process. That doesn’t mean it still doesn’t make me a little uneasy, though.

(FOLLOW ANDY ON TWITTER: @DODGERSANDYINPA)

 

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