Mariners call up top prospect Taijuan Walker to start Friday
Seattle Mariners prospect Taijuan Walker began the year commonly rated as the second best pitching prospect behind only the Orioles' Dylan Bundy, who has since undergone Tommy John surgery. With Bundy on the shelf and a number of other prospects up in the Majors, Walker is pretty much unanimously considered the top pitcher in the minor leagues.
For those of us who like to see how young talent handles the big stage for the first time, I have some good news - the Mariners have called up Walker, and plan to start him Friday against the Houston Astros. It's a good time to give Walker his first start, as they'll be setting him up to succeed against a weak Astros lineup that ranks in the bottom half of the MLB.
As far as pitchers go, Walker will be exciting to watch on Friday. He has some nasty stuff that can make batters look lost at the plate. His four-pitch arsenal centers around a 94 mph fastball that tops out at 96 and has some good movement to it. An 82 mph straight change makes the fastball all the more difficult to pick up. He mixes in a devastating curveball with a lot of movement that I've seen referred to as "slurvy," and he also works in a 92 mph cutter.
A basketball player in high school, Walker also possesses great athleticism. He has sound mechanics that he displays through each pitch, which bodes well for his consistency in the future. Command, however, is what he has struggled with to this point in his career, and it is seemingly the only thing holding him back. He tightened up his command at the Double-A level this year, but regressed in Triple-A, walking 27 batters in 57.1 innings.
Despite the control issues, this is still a shockingly talented kid who just turned 21 years old this month. He has posted a stellar 2.93 ERA in 25 starts across Double-A and Triple-A ball in 2012, and is a good bet to display similar dominance at the next level. It's worth noting that he has struck out 160 batters in 141.1 frames - and absurd rate of 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings.
If you're able to watch Walker on Friday, check him out. If not, it's worth checking up on him after the game to see how he did. The Mariners may shut him down before season's end, as he has already racked up a lot of innings this year for a 21-year-old, but he's worth rostering in all fantasy formats while he is active.