Top prospect and 2015 first-round draft pick Walker Buehler was optioned to the minor leagues by the Dodgers this week. With many speculating that he'd earn a spot on the big league roster, the move has caused some controversy among Dodger fans. In his lone start this Spring, Buehler struck out five over two innings, allowing no runs and only one hit. So why exactly are the Dodgers optioning him?
For starters (pun intended), the Dodger's rotation is already set. While there was some uncertainty regarding the four and five spots due to Hyun-Jin Ryu's injury history and Kenta Maeda's recent emergence as a productive member of the bullpen, the two have proven to be reliable starters in the past and have the advantage of experience on their side as the team approaches the regular season. The veteran presence at the back end of the rotation is the safer option to start the season, for both the team and Buehler individually.
Buehler's future with the team clearly lies as a starting pitcher. The best way for the Dodgers to prepare him for such is to up his inning count without over-working him. To accomplish this without risking early-season losses, the safe bet is to give him more time in the minors. Some speculated that he may be a valuable asset to the bullpen as a long relief man. Even though the bullpen has yet to be finalized, this role would not allow Buehler to raise his inning count to the level required of a big league starter like the Dodgers want. Additionally, the remaining front-runners for the final three bullpen spots are all career relievers who are more adept to bullpen roles.
Similar conversation arose last Spring when Cody Bellinger was sent to the minors despite proving his ability to produce. As we learned from that situation, injuries and roster changes can be unpredictable and lead to an early season call-up. Should any of the starting pitchers go down with an injury at any point this season, a Buehler call-up will be sure to follow.