Taijuan Walker has a bright future in baseball. In fact, everyone agrees that he has the talent to be an ace in the big leagues. He's had multiple physical setbacks this season with his shoulder but he appears to finally be healthy. What should fantasy owners be expecting when he's finally given a spot in the Mariners rotation? That's the focus of this article.
Taijuan Walker is 21st years old, stands 6'4” and weighs 230 lbs. He's got one of the top-5 fastballs in all of the minors, has a plus slider, and is working on his honing his curve and changeup (they are both adequate pitches).
Here is how the major outlets have ranked the talent that is Taijuan Walker. Prepare to be impressed.
2012: 20th best prospect in baseball
2013: 18th best
2014: 11th best
2012: 14th best prospect in baseball
2013: 9th best
2014: 8th best
2012: 18th best prospect in baseball
2013: 5th best
2014: 6th best
I wasn't joking when I noted that he was one of the top arms in the minors.
2010: As a 17 year old he tossed seven innings in the Arizona Fall League.
2011: In 96.2 innings at Single-A ball he posted a 2.89 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and had 113 Ks in 96.2 innings as the kids simply couldn't handle his heat.
2012: At Double-A Walker made 25 starts but the production was lacking. In his 126.2 innings of work he went 7-10 with a 4.69 ERA an 1.37 WHIP. He still had 118 Ks but he also walked 50 guys.
2013: He split his season between 14 starts at Double-A and 11 at Triple-A. Overall he again fell under .500 at 9-10, but he dropped his ERA to 2.93 and his WHIP to 1.20. He also jacked his K-rate back up with 160 punchouts in 141.1 innings.
2014: He's thrown give games with a 3.72 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and a 27/7 K/BB ratio over 19.1 innings over three levels.
He tossed 15 innings last season with a 3.60 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. He's yet to throw a big league pitch in 2014.
As I've mentioned already, the heater is as good a pitch as you're gonna see. He's used that cheese to strike out 427 batters in just 391 big league innings. He easily could be a K-per-inning guy in the big leagues from day one, especially if he can locate his off-speed stuff.
Like many big arms, he's struggled at times to throw strikes. His career BB/9 mark of 3.6 is even higher in 14 starts at Triple-A (4.3) and that could pose a problem in the bigs where hitters are more apt to spit on pitches that minor leaguers will hack at (see the start to the career of Trevor Bauer). This will be key. He could come out firing strikes like an ace or end up being a five inning starter who is frequently removed because he's at 105 pitches after five frames.
Walker has been able to keep the ball in the yard pretty well with a 0.73 HR/9 mark. One of the main reasons for that is that he's not one to allow the fly ball. Since 2011 his fly ball rate is just a tad under 30 percent (the big league average is 34 percent). His fastball is heavy and batters have a hard time lifting the ball. Moreover, batters have had a hard time squaring him up. This is hardly a shock given the stupendous nature of his raw stuff. His minor league line drive is 16 percent. Simply put, some minor leaguers are over-matched to the point that a ground out to second base is a victory.
On the plus side, he's been very consistent whether lefties or righties are at the dish. He's allowed a .298 BABIP to lefties and .302 to righties. He's had a 0.72 HR/9 mark against lefties and 0.74 against righties. His K-rate is 24 percent against lefties and 28 percent against righties. He's allowed 7.82 hits per nine to lefties and 7.31 hits per nine to righties. His WHIP is elevated against lefties (1.40 compared to 1.13) as he's walked about a batter more per nine against port siders.
Walker is athletic, has a repeatable delivery and is roundly praised for his ability to be coached. Oh, he also works hard, something not all kids do.
PLAYING TIME CONSIDERATIONS
The Mariners' rotation includes a fantastic top-2 of Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. At this point Roenis Elias appears to have locked down a spot as well. That leaves the 4/5 spots to Chris Young and Erasmo Ramirez. Young is pitching over his head, is old, and he has no future with the club. Erasmo would appear to have a bright future, but he has yet to show any consistency at all at the big league level. It's very possible that Walker will take over for Erasmo in short order, and once James Paxton is healthy he would figure to eventually unseat Young for a spot in the rotation for those of you wondering about the Mariners other impact minor league arm.
Walker is one of a handful of pitchers that can be considered for inclusion in the list of top-5 arms in minor league baseball. No one doubts that he can be an elite force, a staff ace, at the next level. The question is can he get there right out of the gates? So what do you do with Walker in terms of his fantasy outlook this season? Given the issues with his shoulder and all the setbacks, and questions about his workload, it's tough to look at him and think he's going to dominate this season. Therefore, the decision to add him to your roster is likely dependent on the talent that already resides on your club. Walker could go the way of Jose Fernandez or Danny Salazar, and that's a pretty damn big spread.
10 team lg: As talented as Walker is, pitching is plentiful enough in shallow leagues that you don't automatically have to take a shot on Walker merely because he's talented. It's always difficult for me to suggest to someone to add a minor leaguer who's call up date is uncertain. Even when called up, will his production warrant starting in a 10 teamer? Maybe, maybe not.
12 team lg: You can add/hold Walker here. At the same time, don't forget all the struggles with health and performance we've seen from young arms like Danny Salazar, James Paxton, Archie Bradley etc. Talent doesn't mean that the performance will be there off the hop. Whether you add Walker or not depends on the talent level of your current pitching staff.
15 team lg: You won't find a better arm on waivers than that of Walker. He hasn't looked great in the minors, and his short term outlook is in doubt, but you might as well add him now since it appears that a move to the big leagues is on the horizon.
AL-only: Continue to hold him as you have all year. Adding Walker to your rotation at this point is likely adding a player traded from the NL. He will be welcomed with open arms given that he has difference making ability, even if his outlook is muddled for 2014.