The Los Angeles Dodgers farm system has been among the best in baseball the last few years, developing prospects like Joc Pederson, Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger into Major League All-Stars.
Going into the 2018 season, the consensus top prospects in the Dodgers organization is right-handed pitcher Walker Buehler, who saw his first taste of the big leagues as a September call-up in 2017.
When he came up it was as a reliever though, and he didn’t have much success as he gave up 11 hits and eight runs in 9.1 innings (7.71 ERA) while striking out 12 and walking eight.
Despite his struggles, Buehler projects to be a top-of-the-rotation starter for Los Angeles, and manager Dave Roberts told reporters at the Winter Meetings that he sees him returning to being a starter in 2018. “I can certainly expect to see him as a starter,” Roberts said.
“How things shake out in Spring Training will kind of determine where he starts, but for him to continue to develop as a starting pitcher. Got his feet wet last year, and I think that it was encouraging in a lot of ways for Walker — the quality of hitter, the speed of the game, the preparation, being in big league ballparks, I think, all very good for him. But just continuing to develop. Again, we’ll see how it all shakes out, but he’s definitely a part of the solution.”
Whether Buehler starts the season in the big leagues or Triple-A Oklahoma City remains to be seen and will likely depend on how he looks during Spring Training.
In 28 Minor League games (19 starts) across three levels in 2017, Buehler yielded a 3.35 ERA and 1.11 WHIP while striking out 125 and walking 31 in 88.2 innings. 2017 was the 23-year-old’s first full season returning from Tommy John surgery, and he threw a total of 98 innings.
Given how they have handled previous pitchers coming off arm injuries, the Dodgers will likely limit Buehler’s innings once again in 2018, so it’s possible that he begins the season in the minors to do that.