Taijuan Walker (RHP – Seattle Mariners – Triple-A)
July 1st – Colorado Sky Sox (Colorado Rockies) vs. Tacoma Rainiers (Seattle Mariners)
5.0 IP, 2 hits, 0 ER, 8K/2BB, and 93 pitches with 59 strikes
Taijuan Walker encompasses everything I want to see in a pitching prospect: a great arm, athleticism, and the mechanics to repeat his delivery. Whenever I’m out scouting prospects and find myself near a Walker outing, I take special care to rearrange my schedule.
Walker entered the year as my number 6th ranked overall prospect based more on my scouting reports vs. the box scores he was producing. While he started the 2012 season off strong in Double-A as the youngest pitcher in the level, things started to unravel in the second half and his ERA ballooned up to 4.69. The majority of the problem had to do with an inconsistent release point that led to bouts of wildness and poor command, that led to pitches catching too much of the plate and well, bad stuff happened. Through the disappointing second half, Walker never lost his swagger and entered each game with the confidence that he could win.
I was reminded of that confidence when I got a chance to see Walker on the back fields in Spring Training. The athleticism was impressive as he ran through drills, bullpen sessions, and games. The delivery was so easy and the ball just jumped out of his hand as my radar gun stayed steady at 94-95 MPH and topping out at 96. The curveball was stronger as well with more deception. But it was the cutter that really stood out – nasty at 92 MPH. While it was easy to shake your head about the arsenal, it was the delivery that was the most impressive. It was strong, easy, and repeatable. The balance was the key as it allowed him to have an excellent follow-through to the plate.
From what I saw in Spring, it wasn’t a shock to see Walker handle Double-A with ease; and remember, he was STILL the youngest pitcher in the level. Now Walker finds himself in the difficult Pacific Coast League and continuing to pitch well; albeit a small sample size – 16.0 IP, 16K/5BB, and 0.56 ERA
In the July 1st game I had a chance to scout, Walker was really impressive. His fastball was working 93-94 in the first three innings and most importantly, he was able to command it to both sides of the plate. The cutter was getting plenty of swings and misses and was sitting 91 MPH. It’s truly a nasty pitch and I believe it’s going to be play extremely well at the highest level. His curve ball had a nice 12-6 structure and ranged from 75-78 MPH. The delivery of the curve is slightly different than the fastball though and I do worry that big league hitters could pick that up and make the offering more hittable.
Walker did lose his release point in the third inning and walked two guys. However, he quickly recovered and struck out Charlie Blackmon on a nasty 92 MPH cutter.
I want to go back to the curve ball – which bothered me. Yes, it’s an above-average pitch now with a chance to be more, but in reviewing the video I shot at the game, it looks noticeable different than his fastball. The release point is similar but he slows down his arm speed that could be a problem as he gets to the next level. Major league batters pick up on all nuances, either through visualization on the mound or in the video room and if they can see the curve coming, it will make the pitch less effective.
While I’ve been on Walker for a while now, I didn’t think he would progress this quickly. His control has improved greatly since he was drafted and from what I saw with his ability to command his arsenal, particularly his fastball and cutter, he’s nearly ready for the majors.
Will he have instant success? It’s hard to say as very few pitchers come up and simply shove-it but his arsenal is good enough to get people out at the big-league level. With improved command and a great ballpark, Walker could in fact be a better than league-average pitcher when he is called up. However, looking two to three years out, Walker could be sitting on top of the Mariners rotation; yes I said sitting on top of the Mariners rotation.