The Los Angeles Dodgers made a bit of a surprise pick in the first round of the 2015 Major League Baseball Draft when they selected right-handed pitcher Walker Buehler out of Vanderbilt. There wasn’t any questioning Buehler’s talent, but injury concern hovered him.
Sure enough, Buehler wound up undergoing Tommy John surgery shortly after the Draft. While it took some time for the selection to be evaluated, five years later, it now may be viewed as the best of the entire draft.
Buehler is one of the top young pitchers in all of baseball, serving as a second ace for the Dodgers. “Going into his junior year, we set up what we thought our ranking is. It kind of helps to allocate time for our different scouts and crosscheckers. Walker, we had him as top five in the country,” president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said on the Dodgers Zoom party.
“So from our standpoint, going into January, we had no chance of Walker being there at 24th. So we didn’t spend a lot of time on him early. I guess the silver lining for us is the injury that he had, allowed us to have a chance to draft him where we did.
“I think we got everything right in terms of the ability. We may have been a little bit off on the makeup. Having him come in and the way he dedicated and focused with the rehab process, and coming out of it, we knew he was a special one right away.”
Buehler’s teammate, Ross Stripling, was also part of the Zoom call last week, remembered being at Camelback Ranch at the same time Buehler was beginning to work his way back from Tommy John surgery.
“I was going to say trade up and get that kid from (Texas) A&M,” Stripling joked. “I’ll tell you what, I’ll humblebrag on Walker. Having Tommy John right out of the Draft, it was kind of right around when I did, and I was just about to leave (Camelback Ranch) to go play for the first time in 14 months.
“They were like, ‘Hey, want to go over and watch Walker’s live B.P.?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, sure. Whatever. Who is this kid?’ It was the most amazing thing I had ever seen in my whole life. He was like seven months out of Tommy John and throwing 98 (mph) in a live B.P. And I was about to head to Low-A. I was not feeling good about myself after walking over and watching Walker do that.”
Throwing 98 mph is routine for Buehler nowadays, but when he was recovering from surgery, it was frowned upon in the organization. “I got yelled at pretty thoroughly for that,” Buehler joked.
“I was just about to say, we had to keep telling Walker to throttle back,” Friedman added. “It was too early on for him to be throwing that hard.”
Friedman has had some outstanding picks in the MLB Draft since he took over the Dodgers’ front office, but the Buehler one is one of his best to date. While Friedman expressed how excited they were to get him at the time, Buehler joked that the Dodgers actually had their eye on two of his Vanderbilt teammates instead.
“I think Andrew liked two of my teammates better. I want to go on the record,” Buehler said.
Luckily, they were drafted elsewhere and it worked out best for all parties involved.
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