Las Vegas, Nevada —— After a relief outing on Saturday night on the road at Cashman Field, Los Angeles Dodgers right-handed pitching prospect Walker Buehler is 3-3 with a 3.40 ERA in 20 games (19 starts) over 76.2 innings pitched in 2017 across multiple minor league levels, including most recently pitching for the Pacific Coast League‘s Oklahoma City Dodgers, with 108 strikeouts against just 56 hits and 27 walks allowed in that time span. I observed the 23-year-old last night in his first relief outing of the season as he transitions to the bullpen for a possible role in the big league club’s playoff run; below is Baseball Census‘ full Walker Buehler scouting report, including game video.
Walker Buehler Scouting Report — Video
Our video of Los Angeles Dodgers right-handed pitching prospect Walker Buehler shows his game pitches across that entire August 5 relief outing against the Las Vegas 51s, where he allowed three runs (two scored after he left the game) on two hits and a walk against two strikeouts in 1.1 innings pitched:
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Walker Buehler Scouting Report — Notes
In the first relief outing of his season as Walker Buehler potentially prepares for a playoff push to help the big league club, the Los Angeles Dodgers prospect sat 95-98 mph with his fastball, but struggled to command it. He fell behind too many hitters and when he did get in the zone, he too often found the middle of the plate. You can survive by doing that sometimes when you throw 98 mph, of course, but big leaguers will make pitchers pay for mistakes that catch too much plate, or too much belt. Considering this was the first relief appearance of the year for Buehler, that no doubt had an impact on his comfort and timing on the mound, and it manifested itself in his stuff. In addition to the fastball, Buehler showed off a very hard 89-92 mph slider that functions more as a cutter at the upper end of that velocity band, and a sharp 82-83 curveball. He struggled to command both of those just as he did the fastball, though he showed a better feel for the slider. (He also gave up a solo home run to Victor Cruzado on a slider that flattened out into a hard cutter and ran right into Cruzado’s bat path.)
Both the slider and curve ball are sharp when on, and Buehler showed small flashes of being filthy here and there. His stuff absolutely explodes to the plate, and his velocity and arm strength are doubly jarring considering how free and easy he is releasing the ball. With that, and his slight build, Walker Buehler looks like he’d throw 88 mph and instead he works ten mph harder and flirts with triple digits. While his stuff wasn’t as refined nor his sequencing as nuanced in this first relief outing as it’d been in my earlier viewings of him this year as a starter, there’s no doubt Buehler has some of the best pure stuff in all of minor league baseball and should soon make his presence known in a big league rotation (at least after his relief experiment comes to an end). There’s no question he’s a frontline arm and will enter 2018 with considerable fanfare.
Walker Buehler Scouting Report — Projection
The long-term projection for Walker Buehler is the same as it’s ever been: impact big league starter with good enough stuff to be a critical arm for years to come. He should give the Los Angeles Dodgers another massive boost in the rotation and slot in with Clayton Kershaw to be a fun one-two punch in 2018 and beyond.
In this space, then, I’m more interested in his short-term conversion to relief that the Los Angeles Dodgers hope could soon help them with a playoff run. There’s no question his power stuff will play in the bullpen, and on raw talent alone he’ll adjust relatively quickly to the big leagues down the stretch. It’s a further benefit, too, that the Dodgers can effectively limit his innings by doing this, holding him to a pair of one- or two-inning stints per week instead of two extended starts and more wear and tear. (Buehler already had Tommy John surgery, almost exactly two years ago today.) Further, the Los Angeles Dodgers get an added benefit of introducing him in short, managed stints to the big leagues before he likely takes on a rotation role in 2018. I like everything about sending him to the bullpen to finish the year except for one issue, and I saw it last night in Las Vegas.
Pitchers with true overhand curveballs—and doubly so for pitchers who throw curves and sliders—sometimes struggle to find the feel of those pitches in relief. The curve, specifically, is a difficult pitch to throw coming out of the bullpen, because for most guys there’s so much more feel to it than to a power slider that you throw like a fastball and let the grip do the work. Buehler struggled a lot on Saturday night with that, and it rendered his curveball relatively useless except for one two-strike pitch that he buried to whiff Gavin Cecchini. When that happens, no matter how good his fastball is, hitters can sit on it with slightly more comfort considering, in a situation like Saturday, he’s unable to back it up with an off-speed pitch for a called strike. This won’t affect his long-term career, of course; when he has proper time to warm up pre-game as a starter, he should always find his release point and show off his curve and slider. But it’s nevertheless something that he might struggle with in these relief stints to finish the year and bears watching going forward when he makes his big league debut.