Walker Buehler, the Los Angeles Dodgers' first-round selection (24th overall) in the 2015 Draft, knew he was back when he faced veteran big leaguer Andre Ethier during live batting practice in Arizona in July.
"You do some stuff like that, that gets your heart rate going a little bit, and gets your arm moving game speed," said Buehler, who was out for 12 months following elbow surgery.
"Any success you have against a guy like Andre Ethier can only help your confidence," Buehler said. "Even if he hits you out of the park, then ... he's Andre Ethier. It's kind of a no-lose situation for a guy like me. It was a cool experience. I did all right. He squared up some balls, but I got some balls where I wanted them, and made him do some stuff with the bat. It was good."
Buehler, a 6-foot-2, 175-pound right-hander, was assigned to Great Lakes to close out the 2016 season. He had one appearance in the Arizona League, throwing two perfect innings and striking out three. Buehler has made one appearance for Great Lakes, throwing one inning, striking out one and walking two. He has not allowed a hit or run in his combined three innings pitched.
"The difference between throwing in a game in Arizona and throwing here is exceptionally different," Buehler said. "I'm glad to be with a team. It's a cool feeling. Putting on a uniform, being part of a team, eating dinner with teammates, walking to the hotel ... it's nice."
Buehler, part of Vanderbilt's 2014 National Championship run, pitched most of his junior season with a partial tear in his ulnar collateral ligament, but he never had an MRI until after being drafted by the Dodgers. He signed for $1.78 million and soon underwent Tommy John surgery.
"Everything is limited now," said Buehler, was beat projections that he wouldn't be pitching until the 2017 season. "Everything has a number attached to it. 'Here's the most you can do.'
"The toughest part of any rehab is going to be mental," Buehler said. "It's 12 months that I didn't play. That's the part where you feel like a different person. You don't feel like a baseball player. With how good the doctors are, and how good the rehab people are, and how good the intermediaries are ... everybody is really good. The surgery has become one of those things where it's pretty hard for them to miss. People usually have success after it. The mental part is the big part, because you know the physical stuff is taken care of."
Buehler lost body fat but emerged 15 pounds heavier from the rehab process.
"I'm different," Buehler said. "My body is different. I'm feeling pretty good about myself. My velocity is maybe a tick above what it had been."
Starting off tentatively, Buehler has worked his way back to the 93-to-96 mph range. He focused on throwing his fastball and then moved to throwing change-ups and breaking balls.
After he closes out the Midwest League season in Fort Wayne, Buehler expects to be pitching in instructional and Arizona Fall League games under the watchful eyes of the Dodgers' brass.
As far as the rehab experience, Buehler said he is more mature as a pitcher and a person.
"There is something to be said about going to the same place and putting in this work that you can't see results for five, six, seven months," Buehler said. "It changes your perspective on a lot of things. You become more patient. You become more patient to trust processes. Not playing ... I read more ... there are little things that change how you look a stuff."
Quantrill a TinCap: Cal Quantrill, the No. 8 overall pick in the 2016 Draft, has been assigned to Fort Wayne by the San Diego Padres. Quantrill was scheduled to start Wednesday night at Parkview Field. The former Stanford ace will be the 29th first-round or supplemental first-round selection of the Padres to play in Fort Wayne since the two clubs began their affiliation in 1999. Quantrill, a 6-foot-2, 165-pound right-hander, was 0-2 with a 1.93 ERA with the Tri-City Dust Devils before being assigned to Fort Wayne.
Hit record: West Michigan's Will Maddox set the Whitecaps' franchise record for hits in a season. Maddox topped the mark Saturday in Fort Wayne, surpassing the 204 achieved by Wynton Bernard in 2014. Maddox is second in the Midwest League in batting average, hitting .342.
Lightning Bolt: Beloit outfielder Skye Bolt belted a pair of lightning bolts to power the Snappers to a 5-2 victory against Kane County on Sunday. Bolt unleashed a homer in the fourth inning and followed that with a blast in the sixth inning that gave the Snappers a 5-1 lead.
Curt Rallo is a contributor to MiLB.com.