The Situation: The Dodgers are in the middle of a mini-swoon as the season hurtles towards a close, and have lost nine of their last ten. This isn’t a huge worry as they still maintain a commanding lead on the best record in baseball, but injuries and the potential mental consequences of falling backwards into the postseason are beginning to be a concern. Honestly, though, the previous two sentences likely have less to do with Walker Buehler’s call-up than the end of the Triple-A season for the Oklahoma City Dodgers.
The Background: Los Angeles drafted Buehler as part of their 2015 class out of Vanderbilt University, where Buehler was just one great junior on a consistently competitive team. Almost immediately after signing, Buehler underwent Tommy John surgery, and didn’t make his professional debut until July of 2016. The 2017 season was Buehler’s first chance to handle a full season’s workload, and the Dodgers managed him accordingly, keeping him on a pitch count and innings limit. Some of the abundance of caution is just how the Dodgers work, and some of it, one can imagine, was because they hoped for exactly what is happening right now – this talent, helping them in the late regular season and potentially the postseason. Since arriving at Triple-A Oklahoma City, Buehler has made most of his appearances in relief.
Scouting Report: Buehler is an average-sized righthander with a deliberate and even delivery, despite some second-phase violence. He repeats his mechanics extremely well, and has admirable pacing on the mound, working quickly and with a purpose. He has a four-pitch arsenal, technically, but will likely drop his changeup out of the major league bullpen, as his fastball, slider, and curveball are all much more advanced. His fastball usually sits in the upper 90s, and should stay there consistently in shorter stints, and exhibits natural sink, though he can elevate it for whiffs. The curveball is a very solid pitch with good horizontal drop in the low 80s that he can throw for both strikes and swings, and in previous looks this season, he showed an ability to use it to keep batters off balance. If he needs a third pitch out of the bullpen, his slider should be a solid option, a mid-80s offering with some nice sweep across the plate and solid dive.
Immediate Big League Future: In short stints, Buehler could be the kind of asset that a just-drafted Brandon Finnegan was for the Kansas City Royals in 2014—a fresh, hot arm. The Dodgers tend to be very protective of their young arms, but they wouldn’t be calling him up if they weren’t going to use him. Buehler could still have a future as a starter, and a top-end one, but his immediate goal should be to prove to the Dodgers’ decision-makers that he’s worthy of an October bullpen slot. Buehler does have some postseason experience, as he was a member of the 2014 and 2015 Vanderbilt teams that advanced to the College World Series, and pitched as a reliever on the champion 2014 team. —Kate Morrison
Fantasy Impact: Instead of starting this one off, Ben Stein style, with a classic reference to Walker's cousin (I assume, don't fact check this), Ferris, let's dive into yet another stud prospect getting the call from the Dodgers' organization. As a former first-rounder, Buehler has shot through the minor leagues this season, leaving a trail of strikeout victims in his wake. The 23-year-old has tossed 88 2/3 innings this season, spread across three levels, punching out 125 batters in the process, a rate that would even cause new teammate Clayton Kershaw to do a double take. His stint in Triple-A Oklahoma City wasn't all roses, however. Buehler lived up to his name, issuing almost five free passes per nine innings, en route to a 4.63 ERA. While the walk totals were a little exorbitant, so were the strikeouts, as Bueher fanned over 13 batters per nine innings with a 1.43. DRA.
There's no question that Buehler has raw talent and electric stuff. For fantasy purposes, however, there is some question about his role this season with the big club. Buehler's last nine outings have all come out of the bullpen, tipping the Dodgers' hand on the righty's role in Los Angeles. With Kenley Jansen manning the ninth, Buehler obviously isn't a great save speculation and command issues could lead to an ugly WHIP, but he could rack up some solid strikeout numbers and perhaps even a few holds in September. In dynasty leagues, Buehler figures to be one of the better pitching prospects* (*TINSTAAPP notwithstanding) in the game, and will likely see some time in the rotation next season. After a long layoff due to Tommy John surgery, Buehler is about to finally make it to Hollywood. Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in awhile you could miss it. —Mark Barry
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