Dodgers: Is Walker Buehler Ready to be In the Starting Rotation?

DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 01: Walker Buehler
DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 01: Walker Buehler /

Walker Buehler is the Dodgers top prospect and has high expectations but is he ready to be a starter this year?

Buehler is listed as the number 13 prospect on Baseball America entering the 2018 season which ranks him at the top of Dodgers organization. The hard-throwing 23-year-old righty out of Vanderbilt got his feet wet in the majors last year getting called up in September while appearing in 8 games.

Buehler struggled a bit allowing eight earned runs in 9.1 innings, but he did show he has excellent stuff striking out 12 batters. He definitely showed his was talented but didn’t show he had enough command of the strike zone yet to make a real impact. Buehler was drafted in the first round 24th overall by the Dodgers in the 2015 Amateur Draft.

Walker Buehler probably would have gone earlier if it wasn’t for a late-season elbow injury in his final college year. He wound up missing almost all of the 2016 minor league season recovering from Tommy John surgery and only appeared in 3 games that year. However, Buehler didn’t need much time in the minor leagues before being called up to the majors.

Many people believed Buehler was major league ready coming out of college. Buehler had only pitched in 31 minor league games making 20 starts before being called up to the Dodgers in September. He has a solid 3.27 career ERA in the minors and has posted other statistics that pointed towards his potential future as ace in the big leagues. Buehler averaged 12.6 K/9 and only 6.4 H/9 in the minor’s. These are numbers that only elite pitchers post at the major league level.

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The big question for him, however, is if Buehler is ready to translate those numbers with the Dodgers? There’s a big difference between being able to post those number in the minors and trying to do that in the majors. Now that Yu Darvish has signed with the Cubs the Dodgers officially have an open rotation slot. The Dodgers rotation right now has the first four spots locked down with Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Alex Wood, and Kenta Maeda.

The fifth spot in the rotation is up in the air for anybody to take. Because he is a right-hander, Buehler might get a close look at cracking the rotation since the team is so thin and right-handed starting pitching. The Dodgers already have three lefties in the rotation and don’t want to be overly lefty dominate by adding one more. There are a few pitchers Buehler has to outperform to make the rotation. His biggest competition is probably Ross Stripling.

Stripling doesn’t have the raw talent that Buehler has, but he does have much more experience and command. I believe the safest bet for the Dodgers is not to rush Buehler. They might be tempted to make him the fifth starter because of his potential, but he still needs some more developing in the minors first.

Even in his short amount of time, he showed that he doesn’t quite have the command yet to pitch consistently at the major league level. Stripling is a pretty reliable and a quality pitcher. He is fully capable of being the fifth starter for the Dodgers. I could see the Dodgers using Buehler out of the bullpen to start the season just like how they used him down the stretch last year. A popular tactic that a lot of teams do when they have a young talented pitcher with great stuff but struggles with command is to pitch them out of the bullpen.

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When you come out of the bullpen, you face a few batters so I could see Buehler playing a middle relief role to come in and just blow opposing batters away. If Buehler shows out in spring training, then I could see him starting the season in the rotation, but from what I saw from him last year he still needs more time to develop. I do expect for Buehler to make his first career start at some point this year but not at the beginning of the season.