This should be old hat by now. If a prospect is called up, I’m going to profile him. It’s what I do. When my two worlds collide into one, everything suddenly stops, and I become one with the ball. Feeling each twist and turn, as I tumble out of Walker Buehler’s hand and into Yasmani Grandal’s mitt. That was supposed to be more poetic than homo-erotic thriller, but I’m not sure I achieved that. Oh well, any-fracking-way, Dodgers super-prospect, former first round pick, and Vanderbilt ace made the start on Monday… Wait for it, before being sent back down on Tuesday. It’s a rough life for these prospects. One minute you’re sipping champagne from between Charlotte McKinney’s dirty pillows, and the next you’re back in Omaha eating at Denny’s. (They actually sent Buehler down to Hi-A Rancho, with the intent of adding an arm to the pen for the remainder of the week, before recalling him for Saturday’s double-header against the Giants.) My guess is Buehler will be back in Hollyweird, canoodling with Charlotte once again. Here’s what I saw on Monday.
Scouting Report: I ranked Buehler as the top prospect in the Dodgers system back at the beginning of February, and here’s what I had to say about the former Vanderbilt ace, “Don’t read too much into the struggles in his late season callup, Buehler has the ability to pair three above average or better offerings with above average control. The arsenal is led by his plus fastball that touches 99 with sink. He has the ability to locate it anywhere in the zone, and is a deadly combo with his mid-80’s hook. His slider flashes plus at times, but the changeup is fringe at best. He’ll have a nice combination of groundballs and swinging strikes, making him a brand of pitcher I tend to buy. The big question with Buehler is health, putting a future in the rotation in question. He has the stuff to be an elite reliever, but his most value in dynasty leagues is in the rotation. The upside is top of the rotation starter if he can stay healthy” I got some push back on the reliever line, and for now Buehler is thankfully in the rotation and proceeding as a starter, but don’t be shocked if he spends some time in the pen this season to limit his innings.
Walker Buhler vs. The Miami Marlins, April 23rd, 2018 @ Dodger Stadium
First Inning: First thing is first, Alanna Rizzo, I love you. Oh yeah, Walker Buehler! With two 98 MPH fastballs to start the game Buehler gets a groundout from Miguel Rojas. He then opens up J.T. Realmuto with two more 98 MPH fastballs, before dropping in a slider, he comes back at 99, which Realmuto hits foul. after a lengthy, and uncalled for review, Buehler goes back to the slide piece, which Realmuto promptly hits to leftfield for a single. He starts Starlin Castro off fastball, fastball, curveball, slider, before Castro sprays the slider between third base and the shortstop. With two on Buehler goes fastball, fastball (100), curve, fastball, getting him looking on 99 MPH heat on the outer quadrant. Starts off Cameron Maybin with a curveball first pitch strike, fastball, fastball, changeup, fastball, to walk Maybin, and load the bases. Here comes JB Schuck, Buehler starts him out fastball on the outside, fastball on the inside to get up 0-2, before missing on fastball high and tight, that Grandal bobbles. The next pitch is a nasty curveball that bounces. Buehler comes back at 99 on the outside to get a swinging strike three.
Strike Three Fastball at 99
Summary: An up and down inning for Buehler as he was getting easy velo on the fastball, but it was hittable, and his slider was as well. The curveballs he threw were nice, but lacked the level of control needed to be an impactful out pitch. The changeup looked fringe at best.
Stats: 25 pitches, 16 strikes, 1 swinging strike, 2 hits, 1 walk, 0 runs, 2 Ks
Second Inning: First batter is fellow rookie Lewis Brinson, Buehler starts off slider, fastball, slider to get a three pitch strikeout. Nice placement on the slider. Yadiel Rivera sees fastball inside, fastball outside, fastball up high, that gets a check-swing strike three. Next batter is the pitcher Jarlin Garcia, Buehler starts him off with three straight fastballs getting up 1-2, before missing with the fourth, fifth, and sixth heaters of the at bat, to walk Garcia. Next up is the leadoff hitter Miguel Rojas, Buehler works slider, slider, to go down 2-0 before firing a fastball in the zone at 98, followed by a fastball for a strike, and a fastball for a ball to run the count full, the payoff pitch is a fastball Rojas fouls off his right foot, another 97 MPH fastball is beat into the ground foul, before the 8th pitch of the at bat is hit on the ground up the middle. Hernandez makes a great play on the ball firing to first for the final out of the inning.
Strike three slider
Summary: Solid inning from Buehler, lost a tick or two on the fastball, but I’m impressed by how well he spots it to both sides of the plate. He got squeezed on a couple of fastballs on the black. His slider flashes plus, but his command of the breaking ball is off. His lack of efficiency with his pitches has driven his pitch count up to 46 through two innings. An issue I foresaw.
Stats: 20 pitches, 12 strikes, 2 swinging strikes, 0 hits, 1 walk, 0 runs, 2 Ks
Third Inning: The catcher J.T. Realmuto is up first, the lefty starts off with four consecutive fastballs to get up 0-2, before a changeup is grounded to short for the first out of the frame. Starts Starlin Castro out with curveball, fastball to get up 0-2, before a 97 MPH fastball is driven up the middle, and again Kiki makes an outstanding play behind second sliding to recover, gets up, and spins around to make the play at first. Brian Anderson gets two consecutive curveballs, before hitting the third hook weakly to third base for the final out.
Kiki’s amazing glovework
Summary: Quick 9 pitch inning for Buehler as he gets a great defensive play, and a trio of groundballs. Really nice efficient inning for Buehler. The curveballs to Anderson all had nice placement.
Stats: 9 pitches, 8 strikes, 0 swinging strikes, 0 hits, 0 runs, 0 Bb, 0 K
Fourth Inning: Buehler starts off the inning with three consecutive fastballs off the plate to fall behind 3-0. The fourth fastball drops in for strike one, before Maybin fouls off the fifth pitch and fastball for strike 2, the payoff pitch a 3-2 fastball is knocked up the middle for a base hit. The next at bat starts with a first pitch curveball for a strike, followed by a fastball in the dirt, a changeup is then hit for a lazy flyball out to Matt Kemp in left. Starts off Lewis Brinson with a curveball outside, but as Maybin takes off, Grandal guns him down for the second out. The next three pitches to Brinson are a slider, fastball, fastball for balls and Brinson walks. JB Shuck comes to the plate, takes a first pitch fastball before hitting the second pitch to third for the final out.
Summary: Velocity down to 94-95 on the fastball, and he’s lost a little feel for it. Had trouble throwing strikes that inning, but the thrown out baserunner combined with a couple of weakly hit balls to save his inning.
Stats: 17 pitches, 9 strikes, 0 swinging strikes, 1 hit, 0 runs, 1 Bb, 0 K
Fifth Inning: Buehler starts off the opposing pitcher Jarlin Garcia with five consecutive fastballs to strikeout the number 9 hitter. To Rojas, Buehler starts him off with three more fastballs to fall behind 0-3, the next fastball lands for a strike, followed by yet another fastball for a strike, questionable call there, the next fastball is grounded to second for the out. A first pitch curveball is hit to between the third baseman and the shortstop for a hit. First pitch to Castro is a slider at 86 for a swinging strike, a curveball drops in for a ball just a bit high, another breaking ball is called for ball on the outside. Buehler comes back with a curveball that’s fouled off, he comes back with a fastball at 96 to get the groundout, and the final out of his first major league start.
Strike three fastball
Summary: Not an efficient inning as nearly half of Buehler’s 17 pitches were outside the zone. He did get more weak contact.
Stats: 17 pitches, 9 strikes, 1 swinging strike, 1 hit, 0 runs, 0 Bb, 1 K
Final Line: 89 pitches, 55 strikes, 4 swinging strikes, 4 hits, 0 runs, 3 Bb, ND, 5 Ks, Gamescore: 61
Conclusion: A really encouraging start from Buehler, as his fastball is very good, and he spots it effectively to both right-handed and left-handed batters. His slider sat 86-89, and flashes plus, but the 80-83 MPH curveball seemed like the better out pitch, though he didn’t get many bites on it. What I saw of the 90-91 MPH changeup was of the get-me-over variety. My concern was there is no apparent out pitch. I could see the curveball working that way, but it just didn’t generate the foolish looks indicative of a strikeout pitch. My expectations weren’t nearly met in that regard, and if this is the Buehler we’re getting, I’m a little worried about the strikeout upside. That said, the control and command of his easy high-90’s velo was impressive, picking corners all night, even if he didn’t get a few calls. The velocity waned in the fourth, and then bottomed out at 94-95 in the fifth. Not a red flag, but something to watch. All in all Buehler looked the part of a polished college arm, with an impressive repertoire of pitches he can throw for strikes. Here’s to hoping he generates some more whiffs in his next opportunity.