Position: RHP Height: 6-4 Weight: 220 Born: 10/13/81 Bats: Right Throws: Right
Taylor Buchholz was drafted by the Phillies in the sixth round in 2000 out of high school in Springfield, Pa. He could have been a second-round pick in many draft classes, but most teams thought he would go to college. He was the key prospect in the Billy Wagner trade. The Phillies didn't want to trade him, but they rated him slightly behind Gavin Floyd and Cole Hamels on the depth chart, so when the Astros insisted on a premium pitching prospect in the deal, he was the one included. Buchholz may not have quite the ceiling of Floyd or Hamels, but he's an excellent prospect in his own right.
Buchholz has a major-league fastball at 90-92 mph, sometimes a bit faster. He controls the pitch well and mixes it effectively with his other offerings. His out-pitch is a nasty curveball, rated as one of the best in the minor leagues by many experts. He also has a decent changeup. The curve and change make the fastball look a lot faster than the radar guns say it is. He has a good feel for pitching and is intellectually mature for his age, though he sometimes tries to throw too hard. His fastball is more effective at 91 mph with movement than it is at 94 mph but too straight.
There is nothing wrong with Buchholz statistically. His K/BB ratios have been strong at every level. His K/IP marks have been less impressive, but still decent. He won't be a huge strikeout machine, but the lack of walks helps make up for that. He'll need a decent defense behind him in order to thrive, but that's true for most pitchers. His walk rate declined last year, a good sign. But the non-awesome strikeout rate is a warning that he could use a good dose of Triple-A before being thrust into the major-league environment.
Buchholz has held up well under a relatively heavy workload. He is a very efficient pitcher, and the Phillies have kept close track of his pitch counts, which takes some of the sting off his innings totals. He was bothered by some elbow stiffness in '03, traced to minor bone chips, but surgery was not required. His injury risk is no higher than it is for most pitchers his age, though that doesn't mean he's guaranteed to stay healthy, of course.
What to expect
The Astros should sent Buchholz to Triple-A to begin 2004, to put the finishing touches on his game. He would probably be the first pitcher recalled when the Astros need a starter, provided he gets off to a good start. Although Buchholz doesn't have the pure stuff to be a dominating ace-type starting rotation anchor, he has good command of a solid fastball and an excellent curve. He projects as a middle-of-the-rotation pitcher and should be contributing in Houston by the end of the season.
John Sickels is the author of the 2003 Baseball Prospect Book, which can be ordered from his Web site, JohnSickels.com. His biography of Bob Feller will be published this fall by Brassey's. He lives in Lawrence, Kan., with his wife, son, and two cats. You can send John questions or comments at JASickels@aol.com.