Taijuan Walker Scouting Report (2014)
Mariners pitcher Taijuan Walker is an elite prospect. Seattle expected the talented right-hander to be a big part of their 2014 campaign, but Walker’s debut was delayed due to a shoulder injury. After another smoke and mirrors performance by Erasmo Ramirez, is Walker ready to rejoin the Mariners rotation and contribute to a surprising playoff push?
Taijuan Walker is listed at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds and the former basketball player looks every bit the impact athlete. His shoulders are broad and strong, accentuated due to his thin waist. He appears to have added muscle in his legs as well, which bodes well for durability long term. Previously, his motion relied primarily on his tremendous arm speed. Added strength in his lower half will help generate velocity while alleviating stress on his impact arm.
Walker’s motion is simple and repeatable. He comes slightly closed on his leg lift, though not as severe as organization-mate, Felix Hernandez. At take-away, he cuffs the ball slightly, but his arm doesn’t lag behind his body. This can be problematic, though Walker’s windup benefits from consistent pacing. He does tend to finish upright causing more stress on his shoulder, but he does look smoother and more fluid. In games, he works quickly and benefits from getting into a rhythm.
At Cheney Stadium, home of the Tacoma Rainiers, Walker established the fastball immediately. Early on against the Oklahoma City RedHawks, he threw in a few change-ups and curveballs but stuck with a fastball-heavy mix. He sat comfortably at 93-94 MPH and touched 96. He maintained velocity throughout the complete game shutout, hitting 95 in the 9th inning. He locates on the corners more easily than the top and bottom of the zone, but kept the ball down unless he wanted to elevate the pitch and cause a batter to chase for strike three. He challenged batters inside frequently and broke a number of bats.
His curveball was good this night, freezing a number of batters and producing only bad contact. With sharp, 11-5 break, the offering ranged from 73-76 MPH. Walker does a nice job of not casting his curveball. He threw it mostly as a strike (rather than burying it), which means the pitch spends more time in the zone. When he did try to bury it, Walker bounced the pitch to the plate. Walker will have to be sharper with balls in the dirt to earn swinging strikes, which should be easier with the defensive chops of his eventual battery-mate, Mike Zunino. Either way, the pitch has potential to be above average and should get there simply with experience.
Walker flashed an average change-up, using it primarily against left-handed batters. The pitch sat between 87-88 MPH and he threw it predominantly arm-side with decent fade. The key for his change-up was the consistent arm speed rather than significant movement. He was able to flash the pitch to right-handed hitters and still be effective, working it under their hands. Still, at 87 mph, the pitch would benefit from greater separation from his fastball velocity.
Taijuan Walker didn’t use his cutter often, but logged a couple around 87-88. It’s possible the pitching staff limited his arsenal, or Walker and catcher Jesus Sucre stuck with what was working. Regardless, the pitch has late bite and presents as above average (if not plus). With a four-pitch repertoire and good (though not great) command, it’s clear Walker has all the tools needed to anchor the top of a rotation.
Tool Present Future Projected Role Number 1 Starter On First Division Team Fastball 65 70 Cutter 60 65 Curveball 50 55 Change-up 50 55 Control 50 60 Command 45 55
Owning Taijuan Walker
Though he’s struggled with consistency since returning, Walker appeared to shake off much of the rust in this outing. Over his complete game, he struck out eight, walked one, and allowed just four hits. He showed above average control and was very poised on the mound. Ever the competitor, Walker was assertive and expected to dominate. These outings are few and far between in the minor leagues, though Walker isn’t long for Tacoma.
With Felix Hernandez the undisputed ace in Seattle, Taijuan Walker shows the ability to become one of the top-15 pitchers in baseball. Is there much reason to differentiate between an “ace” and a #1 pitcher? Probably not. If Walker can put concerns about the long-term health of his shoulder behind him, he should eventually push Hernandez as the top dog of the Mariners rotation (as treasonous as it sounds to challenge King Felix). Taijuan Walker has to be considered one of the best prospects in baseball, not just on the mound.
27 Jun 2014 / Ben Flajole /
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