Whenever he throws, Dodgers brass is there. It could be a bullpen session or, like Friday against the Tijuana Toros, one inning of a Minor League game.
Buehler, 22, was the Dodgers’ first-round pick out of Vanderbilt in 2015, had Tommy John surgery before pitching in a game and has thrown only 10 professional (and scoreless) innings in Rookie and Class A.
But he’s already being mentioned in the same breath as Kershaw and Julio Urias, the two best starting pitchers the club has developed in the last decade.
“It’s elite stuff,” said big-league pitching coach Rick Honeycutt. “You take any of these young men and you see their stuff, and all you want to know is, when is the right time? And they tell you when is the right time. But the actual pitch-ability and actual stuff ranks up there pretty much with anybody.”
Because of that, and because of the successful recent development of pitchers by the Dodgers Minor League system, Honeycutt won’t object to seeing Buehler on the mound of a Cactus League game, even if it seems like fast-track to the extreme.
“I trust the staff down below and of course the guys up above,” said Honeycutt. “If they want him to experience that in Spring Training, I think that’s a good experience. An inning in the Freeway Series is still part of the development. A little bit, you want them to see what happens over here and how they go about their business, whether he pitches or not.”
As a college pitcher, Buehler is older than Kershaw or Urias were after two professional seasons, Honeycutt noted. This spring, Buehler has trimmed his pitch mix with the goal of throwing fewer types of pitches, better.
“It’s great, I throw four pitches, but do I command one? Two? Four?” said Honeycutt. “Right now they want him to command the four-seam. I saw him working on a two-seamer for half his bullpen. He’s throwing upper-90s with a four-seamer, why mess with that right now? Get the four-seamer and find which breaking ball works. For four innings, he can probably pitch with two pitches.”
Honeycutt wouldn’t predict when Buehler would become a factor with the Major League team, but with so much attention from management, it’s probably sooner than later.
“Player Development is doing a great job,” he said. “I feel like last year they saved our season. From Julio to Brock Stewart and Ross Stripling and Jose De Leon. A lot of arms, they competed, gave us wins and innings at a time we needed help, so it’s good to get where we have a wave of guys that have no fear.”
Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.