The Dodgers have one of the best pitching prospects in baseball in young right-hander Walker Buehler. However, that does not mean that Buehler has an easy path to make the big league club.
On the most recent top 100 prospects list by Baseball America, Walker Buehler was ranked as the 13th best prospect in baseball. While he would be a shoe-in to make just about any other big league roster, his path to make the Dodgers opening day roster is anything but a slam dunk. There are several reasons why Buehler faces an uphill battle to make the Dodgers twenty-five man roster out of spring training.
One of the biggest hurdles young Buehler faces in making the opening day roster is that the Dodgers are most likely going to limit his innings in 2018. Just as they did with Julio Urias, the Dodgers are going to treat Walker Buehler with extreme precaution to protect his talented but raw arm. In 2017, Buehler threw 88 minor league innings, and just over nine big league innings which gave him a total of approximately 98 innings. Those 98 innings are the most innings Buehler has thrown in his short pro career and he has already had one Tommy John surgery.
Ideally, the Dodgers are going to want to limit Buehler to about 160 to 180 innings max in 2018. That means the Dodgers will face a similar situation to what they had with Urias a few seasons ago. They can either start Buehler in the rotation to start the season and then shut him down later in the year, or they can start him slowly in the minor leagues, and let him come up to LA later in the season. The second choice would allow Buehler to possibly pitch in the post-season for the Dodgers.
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The other factor working against Buehler’s opening day odds is the fact that the Dodgers rotation is stacked. The rotation currently includes five solid to great starting pitchers in Kershaw, Wood, Hill, Ryu, and Maeda. In order for there to be room for Buehler, an injury or trade would have to occur. The problem with trading a starting pitcher is that this would likely cause the Dodgers to bring back Yu Darvish if they could shed enough salary. That would further diminish any chance of Buehler being a part of the opening day rotation.
Even if an injury were to happen to one of the Dodgers starting pitchers, that would still not be an automatic roster spot for Buehler. The depth chart will be sorted out in spring training, but Brock Stewart and Ross Stripling are also candidates to be a part of the rotation should anything happen to one of the projected five starters.
It’s unclear what the front office’s exact plan is in 2018 for Walker Buehler but starting Buehler in the minor leagues to limit his innings would be the most obvious option. Even starting Buehler in extended spring training could be an option before shifting him to Triple-A Oklahoma City to start building up his arm strength. I can’t say I would be totally shocked if Buehler impressed his way into an opening day roster spot, but the smart money is on Buehler beginning the season off of the opening day roster.