Taijuan Walker: Future M’s Ace?


As the trade deadline quickly approaches, I seem to have this sixth sense that kicks in: I instinctively read every article or watch every TV segment that’s regarding trade rumors.

Call me a sucker, but I think that’s what makes this time of year the among the most exciting parts of the season.

As the deadline passes at 4:01 PM on July 31, your favorite club could have a DRASTICALLY different look to it than it did the day before: your aging slugger could’ve been shipped to the opposite coast for one last run at that elusive World Series ring that’s evaded him his entire career. Or, “your” GM goes out and scores that hot bat that you’re certain will propel you into the playoffs.

Even more emotional is when you see a sure-fire prospect get shipped off for a starter that your favorite team will essentially “rent” for the last bit of the season before he goes after mega-bucks as a free agent in the off season.

So, as I am wont to do at this time of year, I came across FOX Baseball writer Ken Rosenthal’s latest column, and was quite surprised by what he had to say.

Essentially, in his column you can read here, he argues that it’s not so crazy to think it could benefit the Seattle Mariners to trade away bona fide ace Felix Hernandez.

At first glance, I thought Rosenthal tied his bow tie too tight. But then, a name popped into my head that made Rosenthal not seem so crazy after all.

Taijuan Walker.

Walker, in his second full season as a professional, put up some numbers that lead people to believe he’ll be the next Mariners ace in a couple years time.

Last season, 18 year-old chucked 96.2 innings over 18 starts for the Midwest League’s Clinton Lumber Kings, the low Class “A” affiliate of the Mariners, racking up 113 K’s and a 2.89 ERA.

Reports show that he has a dynamite fastball averaging in the mid-nineties, and two excellent complimentary pitches: an excellent off-speed pitch with good movement and a knee-buckling curve ball that compliments his blazing fastball nicely.

This season, hurling for Class “AA” Jackson, Walker’s ERA has risen to 4.50, but he’s already started 15 games and has struck out 71.

This June, Walker posted a sky-high 9.15 ERA for the month in what has turned out to be the most difficult month of his career.

Still, Walker stands at an imposing 6’4″ and weighs in at 195 pounds, so his body is definitely Major League-ready.

I wouldn’t put too much into his June struggle. Every young pitcher has a streak in the Minors where he can’t seem to get the job done. Good pitchers can overcome adversity, and it’s intriguing to see how Walker will respond.

I’m not going to go all out and say the Mariners should ship away Hernandez because they have Walker waiting in the wings. I’m personally hesitant to trade away a pitcher of that caliber to replenish the offensive punch of your Minor League system—and answering that question is a a bit outside the scope of this blog.

Many young Minor League pitchers don’t have more than one complimentary pitch that goes along with their “out pitch”. In this case, Walker can annoy hitters with not one, but two complimentary pitches (his changeup and curve).

I expect Walker will go through at least two more seasons of Minor League ball before the Mariner’s give him the nod to toe the rubber at Safeco Field, and if the M’s keep Hernandez around, he could be the 1-2 punch that many Seattle fans hoped Michael Pineda would be to Hernandez before they shipped him off to New York this past offseason.

EDITOR’S NOTE: To read more about Walker and other pitchers on the US squad for this week’s 2012 Futures Game, click here.