The Dodger’s Walker Buehler Earns An MLB Promotion, But Questions Still Exist

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

Around mid-season we published an article entitled “Prospect Stock Report: Why Walker Buehler May Not Be A Top 20 Prospect Yet” amid all of the accolades being bestowed upon him.  There is no question that he has emerged as one of the better pitching prospects in the game and his performance across three levels of the minors is eye opening (3.35 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 125 K, 31 BB over 88.2 IP).  So two months removed from our initial article, and with news of his promotion, it’s worth circling back to see if our outlook has changed.

The big concern wasn’t the skillset, and he continued to show all three skills we look for from a pitcher:

  • Strikeout Rate – 12.7 K/9
  • Walk Rate – 3.1 BB/9
  • GO/AO – 1.53

The walk rate was even better before he struggled a bit at Triple-A (including working as a reliever) with a 4.2 BB/9 over 23.2 IP.  So if the skills aren’t the question, what is?

The big issue remains the question about working deep into games.  It’s not to say that he can’t do it, but we simply haven’t seen it as the Dodgers continue to limit him.  When he was working as a starter he never went longer than 5.1 innings in any start, mostly due to Los Angeles’ restrictions.  We have to remember that he’s still working his way back from Tommy John surgery (which caused him to go later in the 2015 draft than you would’ve otherwise).

However, while he’s not small his 6’2”, 175 lbs. frame does draw questions as to whether or not he can hold up to a starter’s workload.  As MLB.com noted:

“Because Buehler has a slight build, there were concerns about his durability even before his elbow gave out. His athleticism and strike-throwing ability should help his cause, and he was able to repeat his delivery and maintain his stuff into the later innings while at Vanderbilt.”

We’ve seen the Dodgers try to bring pitchers along slowly before, and the results for Julio Urias haven’t gone the way we’d have hoped.  That’s not to say that Buehler will follow the same path, but it’s something to keep in mind.  Buehler is going to work as a reliever the rest of this season, and while he should start again next year he’ll again face an innings limit (think in the 130-140ish range most likely).

So, assuming he stays healthy we’re still looking at 2019 before he can be fully unleashed, and maybe then we’ll finally find out if he can consistently work 6 or 7 innings at a time and be successful.  That’s a long ways off, especially for a pitcher who already has had elbow issues.  Does it mean that he won’t be an elite pitcher?  Absolutely not, but it’s fair to have concerns and to temper your expectations.

Sources – MILB.com, MLB.com, Fangraphs, Baseball Reference

Make sure to check out our Mid-Season Top 50 Prospects by clicking here!

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