There's no clear cut timeline for the arrival of top Mariners prospect Taijuan Walker, but one thing's for sure: He has to be ready. At 20 years old and only three starts at the Triple-A level under his belt, it may be another calendar year before we see Walker in Seattle, but boy will it be exciting.
Walker is a rare find in the draft—at the time, a 17-year-old lanky right-hander with dynamite stuff—and has only improved in every facet of the game since. The former first-round pick has quickly worked his way through the lower levels of the minor leagues—excelling at each stopping point.
In 17 starts this season between Double-A Jackson and Triple-A Tacoma, Walker is 6-7 with a 2.16 ERA, and a WHIP just a hair above one. He strikes out 10 batters per nine innings and has allowed only one run in 16 innings with the Rainiers. According to Jacob Thorpe at MLB.com, Tacoma manager john Stearns had this to say:
He's much more mature physically than a year ago, to think that he's here doing this at age 20 at this level is really, you can really fantasize about what's going to happen in the future with him. He's got a really high ceiling, his ceiling is up there as good as I've seen.
Walker is making his second-consecutive appearance in the Futures Game, which features top prospects from the United States against top prospects from other countries. Last year in the Futures Game, Walker tossed a scoreless inning, allowing one hit and recording one strikeout.
All pitchers are limited to one inning of work, but this will be a great opportunity for Walker to further cement himself as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball.
If he can refine his control (3.5 BB/9) and improve his off-speed pitches, Walker has ace potential. According to scoutingbook.com:
Walker works mainly with a 94mph darting fastball that has great late movement, and when he mixes in a sometimes-effective straight change at 82mph, the fastball is nearly unhittable. His breaking pitch is a slurvy curve that isn't yet ready for regular use, but he'll have time to develop. Walker has higher upside (and higher risk) than either Hultzen or Paxton, but he's also a lot younger, and will probably take longer to realize his potential.
At 6'4'', Walker's got the ideal body and length for a big league pitcher, so now it's all about refining his stuff and increasing his baseball IQ. At 20 years old, he shouldn't be rushed and nobody should jump the gun on calling this guy the next big thing. But at this point, it's fair to say he was a steal at pick 43 for $800,000.
Walker was originally going to be joined by Brad Miller, but he's been playing with the Mariners for the past two weeks and will presumably be replaced on the Team USA roster.