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August 29, 2013

The Call-Up

Taijuan Walker

by Jason Cole and Paul Sporer


The Situation: After designating veteran righty Aaron Harang for assignment earlier this week, the Mariners will call up top prospect Taijuan Walker to start Friday’s game against the Houston Astros. Seattle will look to get Walker a taste of big-league competition while injecting some intrigue into a rotation that has been extremely shaky past the 1-2 punch of Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. The other seven starting pitchers used by Seattle this season have a cumulative 5.55 ERA in 76 starts.

Walker, who ranked no. 9 on Baseball Prospectus’ mid-season top 50 prospects list, will likely make at least a couple big-league starts before season’s end. After logging 126 2/3 innings at Double-A last year, he joins the M’s with 141 1/3 frames under his belt in 2013. Shannon Drayer of 710 ESPN in Seattle has reported that Walker’s ideal innings cap is approximately 160, leaving some wiggle room for September.

Background: A product of Yucaipa High School in Southern California, Walker was Seattle’s top pick (no. 43 overall) in the 2010 draft. The 6-foot-4 righty was actually an accomplished basketball player as a youngster and didn’t toe the rubber full-time until his senior year. Primarily a shortstop on the diamond as a junior, Walker was noticed by scouts at Yucaipa while playing alongside 2009 first-round pick Matt Davidson. He told the story himself in our video interview earlier this season.

At the time he signed, Walker was understandably regarded as a pitching project with immense pure talent. He proved to be more advanced than initially thought in his first full season, however, as he flashed dominant stuff and posted a 2.89 ERA with Single-A Clinton in 2010. After spending his age-19 season at Double-A Jackson last year, Walker has split the 2013 campaign between Jackson and Triple-A Tacoma. The 21-year-old (as of August 13) has a combined 2.93 ERA in 141 1/3 innings between the two levels, yielding 112 hits, walking 57, and striking out 160.

Scouting Report: When I recently scouted Walker for BP’s Eyewitness Accounts series, I pegged him as a role 7 player with a no. 2 starter projection. The California native attacks hitters with power and relies heavily on his fastball-cutter combination. He produces seemingly effortless 92-98 mph velocity from his strong frame, presenting it to hitters on a steep downward plane. His cutter––which can touch 93 mph––is another potential plus-plus pitch; it has hard, short break with some late tilt, and he’ll use it as a weapon against both left- and right-handed hitters.

Walker’s fastball-cutter mix and highly competitive demeanor should enable at least some level of short-term MLB success as long as he’s locating well enough. In the long run, his overall command and the consistency of his two off-speed offerings––a 73-75 mph curve and hard changeup––will determine whether he’s able to reach his elite ceiling. Both the curve (future solid-average for me) and change (future average) are perhaps more change-of-pace offerings than consistent knockouts, though his curve has huge depth and can induce the occasional silly swing.

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article Overthinking It: Erik ... (08/29)
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Premium Article The Call-Up: Xander Bo... (08/19)
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Next Article >>
Premium Article What Scouts Are Saying... (08/29)

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