Fantasy Baseball Sleeper: Taijuan Walker

Seattle Mariners pitcher Taijuan Walker
Seattle Mariners pitcher Taijuan Walker
Feb 15 2012 Peoria AZ USA Seattle Mariners pitcher Taijuan Walker throws during a pitchers and catchers workout at the Peoria Sports Complex Mark J Rebilas USA TODAY Sports

The Mariners are seemingly calling up top prospects weekly, a clear case of a truly stacked farm system. Even with rookies Mike Zunino, Nick Franklin, Brad Miller, Erasmo Ramirez, and Brandon Maurer having already seen time this season, the M’s still have an ace up their sleeve – top-5 prospect Taijuan Walker.

First, he’s purely physically gifted. At just 20-years-old, he stands 6-foot-4 and 210 lb. His fastball consistently hits the mid-90s and he mixes in a healthy dose of changeups and curveballs. He’s also reportedly working on a cutter. With raw skill and size, he was drafted in the first-round of the 2010 draft at just 17-years-old and became an immediate sensation.

His first action came as a 17-year-old in the rookie league where he allowed just one run over his first seven professional innings, surrendering just six baserunners and striking out nine.

The following year he played a full season in Single-A where he went 6-5 with a 2.89 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and 113 K/39 BB over 96.2 IP. That certainly turned some heads and Baseball America ranked him the 20th top prospect in the league while MLB.com ranked him 18th.

He was moved to Double-A immediately following the season which was likely too soon. Walker struggled for the first time as he went 7-10 with a 4.69 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, and 118 K/50 BB over 126 IP. He also hit 12 batters and threw five wild pitches that season.

Most top prospects, especially top-20 ones, would plummet in the top prospect rankings after a year like that. Instead, Baseball America ranked him 18th best coming into this season and MLB.com ranked him 5th. They turned out to be right.

His second go-around in Double-A was brilliant as he put up a 2.46 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and 96 K/30 BB over 84 IP. That earned him a quick promotion to Triple-A where Walker has gone 2-0 with a 0.56 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and 16 K/5 BB over his first 16 IP. On the season, Walker owns a 6.2 H/9 and 0.6 HR/9. Even his walks have diminished significantly, 3.2 BB/9 vs. 3.6 last season.

Although he only has three starts under his belt at Triple-A, the Mariners have not been reluctant to call up prospects quick. For better or worse, Brandon Maurer started this season on the roster without playing a single game at Triple-A. Last year, Erasmo Ramirez started the year in the Bigs after just seven Triple-A starts. With the numbers that Walker has put up, it certainly doesn’t seem like he needs a lot more polish.

More importantly, consider the state of the Mariners rotation which ranks 23rd in ERA and 21st in BAA.

Aaron Harang has been downright terrible, going 4-8 with a 5.38 ERA on the season, most recently surrendering seven runs over five innings to the Red Sox on July 10. Erasmo Ramirez’ 2013 debut didn’t go quite as planned as the 23-year-old allowed seven runs and 11 baserunners over 4.2 IP against the Red Sox. Joe Saunders has been stellar over his last nine games, going 5-3 with a 2.37 ERA but we know that’s unsustainable. He was 3-5 with a 6.09 ERA before this hot stretch and has a career 4.15 ERA and 1.37 WHIP.

Walker certainly appears to be next in line to get a crack at the rotation and, despite other Mariners prospects like Maurer and Ramirez struggling, you have to get excited about the potential the league’s fifth-best prospect brings to the table.

author avatar
Igor Derysh
Igor Derysh is Editor-at-Large at XN Sports and has been featured in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald, Baltimore Sun, Orlando Sun-Sentinel, and FantasyPros. He has previously covered sports for COED Magazine, Fantasy Alarm, and Manwall.com.

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