LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers took a college pitcher with their first-round selection in the 2015 MLB Draft, picking Vanderbilt right-handed pitcher Walker Buehler at No. 35 overall.
What he’s good at right now: Buehler has a plus fastball that can reach 96 mph but will sit around 92-94 mph in his weekend starts. Buehler’s change-up as excellent fade and should be a strikeout pitch at the next level. Buehler is highly athletic and has a repeatable delivery and above average pitchability.
What he can be good at in the future: Buehler is more polish than projectability, so there’s not much room for significant improvement. He has the making of a solid breaking ball that can be tightened up, and with his athleticism, he should improve his command with more experience.
What does he need to work on: Buehler has had an uneven Spring by his standards and his stuff hasn’t been as firm or as under control as it has been in the past. He is thinly built, so I don’t see him adding much bulk, but he’ll need to work on his stamina both in games and for the long haul.
Carry tool: Buehler has a carry pitch in both his fastball and his sinker. However, his best trait in the past has been his pitchability, which should make him a fast mover.
Biggest weakness: Buehler goes about 6’1 and 160 lbs., so durability is an obvious concern, and a slow start to the spring due to injury adds caution to the profile.
ETA: Buehler is likely to need some time off after the College World Series, but he’s ready for Great Lakes now on a monitored workload. Buehler should reach Double A at some point in 2016, making his best case MLB ETA at some point in 2017. Could pitch in the pen at the end of next season if need be.
Realistic best case scenario: Buehler has the chance to reach his #3 ceiling with good health and do so in short order. While he has the outside chance of being better than that, the package of two 60 grade pitches, a 50 grade pitch, and plus pitchability should find him a spot in the Dodgers rotation quickly.
Wrap: While several indications suggested the Dodgers would be moving in another direction with this pick (and still might take that direction at pick #35), Buehler’s value was just too good to pass up. Buehler matches up with recent Billy Gasparino drafts with the Padres, where he’s elected to go with the best college talent with solid ceiling in round one, setting himself up to go with more upside in subsequent picks.
Obviously, I find this pick to be a tremendous coup. I had Buehler ranked 6th and expected his value to recover in time for him to go in the top 15 selections, so finding him available at 24 was a stroke of luck the Dodgers were ready to cash in on. Buehler is reminiscent to Tim Hudson to me as the type of slender arm that can still log 200+ innings thanks to his athleticism, clean arm action, and ability to get hitters out early in the count. Buehler doesn’t quite have Hudson’s sink on the fastball, but it’s an electric pitch when on, and the change-up can become a true putaway pitch.
The Buehler selection sets up the Dodgers to be able to gamble with future picks. He’s the risk saving lynchpin that should balance out the draft class that should also feature high ceiling guys at future picks. The Grant Holmes pick was good value last year, but Buehler is an even bigger steal, and likely passes him on the ladder. I expect Buehler to rank behind Urias and Seager in the prospect rankings, battling for position with Holmes and De Leon in the top tier.