In a season that has already seen a number of highly touted rookie pitchers make their presence felt, we can now add another name to the list: Taijuan Walker.
Seattle's top-rated pitching prospect made his major league debut on Friday night against Houston and was phenomenal, allowing two hits (both which could have—and probably should have—been scored as errors) and one unearned run over five innings of work, walking one and striking out two.
Only 21 years old, Walker's MLB debut is on par with those of the other highly touted rookies that have come before him this season:
|Pitcher (Team)||Age||IP||H||ER||BB||K||Balls/Strikes||Total Pitches|
|Gerrit Cole (PIT)||22||6.1||7||2||0||2||22/59||81|
|Jarred Cosart (HOU)||23||8.0||2||0||3||2||41/55||96|
|Jose Fernandez (MIA)||21||5.0||3||1||1||8||27/53||80|
|Sonny Gray (OAK)*||23||6.0||4||2||3||5||35/59||94|
|Taijuan Walker (SEA)||21||5.0||2||0||1||2||27/43||70|
|Zack Wheeler (NYM)||23||6.0||4||0||5||7||47/55||102|
*Sonny Gray's first two appearances came in relief; this was his third big league appearance (first start).
While Walker may not have racked up the gaudy strikeout numbers of Jose Fernandez or Zack Wheeler, he showed phenomenal command of his pitches, keeping the ball around the plate and attacking batters with the confidence of a seasoned veteran.
Clearly, the Mariners are going to bring Walker along slowly, pulling him after he threw only 70 pitches. That will certainly impact the numbers that he puts up in the handful of starts that he has left to make this season.
On pure stuff alone, Walker is right up there with Fernandez and, in my opinion, has a more impressive arsenal than the rest of those on the list.
His fastball sits in the low to mid 90s, with Walker getting it up to 95 to fan All-Star Jason Castro for his first career major league strikeout.
Walker's cutter isn't far behind the fastball in terms of quality, sitting in the low 90s, but it's Walker's curveball—still a work in progress—that puts him ahead of everyone not named Fernandez on this list.
A legitimate 12-6 curve with incredible break, Walker made Castro look foolish with the pitch, recording his second career strikeout when Castro was clearly looking for the heater.
With Felix Hernandez in Seattle, Walker will never be considered the ace of the Mariners pitching staff, and rightfully so. Players like King Felix are simply on a different level than everyone else.
But Walker has the talent, the arsenal and the makeup to be a major league ace. While the same could be said of the other high-profile rookie starters who made their MLB debuts this year, Walker has that extra something—just like Fernandez—that makes him just a little bit better than everyone else.
On Friday night, Taijuan Walker looked like a young Kevin Brown or Dwight Gooden. If he can go on to have even half of the success that those two had early in their careers, the future for both him and Seattle is going to be very bright.