Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF): If you can dream it, you can project it. True frontline potential with two easy future 70-grade pitches.
The Player: Taijuan Walker (RHP, Seattle Mariners) – A supplemental pick in 2010, Walker and the Mariners agreed to an $800,000 signing bonus out of a California high school. He only pitched seven innings in the Arizona complex league after signing but absolutely blew the Mariners away with his performance in the fall instructional league. He broke onto the national scene in 2011 with a 2.89 ERA in 18 starts at Low-A. He struck out well over a batter per inning (112 in 96.2) with a solid walk rate.
Body: Absolutely flawless frame (6-4, 195) that oozes future projection. Has natural strength and room to add more without become stiff.
Makeup: I’ve heard nothing but good things about his makeup in my conversations with area scouts from his time as an amateur and in discussions with the Mariners.
Delivery/Mechanics: Everything is easy in his delivery. Employs a modest leg kick that allows him to maintain excellent balance over the rubber. His arm action is exceptionally clean and lightning fast. He finishes well out front and lands in a position that allows him to field come backers.
Fastball (FB) Velocity (Wind-up): High – 99, Low – 92, Average – 94-95, Grade – 70/80
Fastball (FB) Velocity (Stretch): High – 98, Low 92, Average 94-95, Grade – 70/80
Fastball (FB) Movement: Has good life and gets on hitters thanks to his long limbs and extension in his delivery. Will show some boring action in on right-handers at times. Shows aptitude to manipulate the ball. Grade – 50/60
Overall Fastball: Potential elite fastball velocity with such an easy delivery that it explodes to the plate and has added deception as a result. Grade – 70/80
Curveball (CB): Scouts saw both a true hammer and a loopier breaking ball from him in 2011. The hammer has elite potential and could be one of the better ones in the game if he can find consistency. Has 12-6 to 12-5 break that is hard and biting when it’s on. Grade – 50/70
Change-up (CH): Maintains arm speed and slot well but lacks feel for the pitch. Doesn’t always trust it and will try too hard to take some off it at times. Shows some sink when its working. Grade – 30/50
Control: Athleticism allows him to repeat his delivery well which helps him pound the strike zone with both FB and CB. Will work up in the zone too much at times, particularly when he tries to dial it up. Needs to trust natural velocity and pound the bottom of the zone. Grade – 40/70
Command: Locating within the zone is a work in progress. He will show flashes of moving the ball side to side and can intentionally elevate at times, but is too often just throwing at the zone rather than trying to hit a spot. Ultra-projectable delivery and athleticism gives plenty of projection. Grade – 30/60
Summation: You can imagine Walker becoming just about anything down the line. With crazy athleticism, great arm action, two pitches with at least 70 potential and a good head for pitching, he could be a true front of the rotation monster. He will require some developmental time but his potential is undeniable. The nuances of the game such as fielding his position, pickoff moves and pitch sequencing are still very much a work in progress, but they should come with experience. If the change-up leaps forward to be an average pitch there won’t be much left to stop him. The ace tag is thrown around too often by fans but Walker has everything needed to develop into a legitimate top of the rotation stud.
Relative Risk: High. In this case, with great potential reward comes great risk. There’s still a lot that could go wrong as Walker navigates the developmental hurdles – including the injury nexus – of a young pitcher.
Future: The Mariners haven’t set his 2012 assignment in stone yet but it is highly unlikely he will be anywhere but the California League to start the year. There could be some statistical bumps this year but as long as he remains healthy and shows progress with his command and change-up, he should stay on target for a late 2014 debut.