Feb 13, 2014; Peoria, AZ, USA; Seattle Mariners pitcher Taijuan Walker throws during team workouts at Peoria Sports Complex. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Prospects on the Verge: Taijuan Walker

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Taijuan Walker scared some Seattle Mariners fans when pitchers and catchers reported to spring training and he was held back due to some shoulder soreness. They let out a collective sigh of relief when he took part in his first bullpen and looked like he bore no ill effects. Despite being only 21, Walker is expected to be a member of the starting rotation in Seattle this year.

Drafted 43rd overall in 2010, he received a relatively modest $800,000 signing bonus to go pro out of Yucaipa High School but was considered to be a very raw prospect who had more athleticism than pitching experience. Blessed with a solid, 6’4″, 210 pound frame, Walker brings the heat with a mid-90s fastball that he can command very well as was seen by the success that he had in his limited major league audition in 2013, walking just four batters in 15 innings. While his offspeed pitches are still developing, he has been showing an 88-92-mph cutter that flashes plus potential. His changeup and curveball still need some work and the big question is whether the Mariners are going to feel that those secondary pitches are developed enough to survive a full season in the majors by the time spring training ends.

Walker’s minor league career has been mostly stellar, dominating in his first full-season in Class-A Clinton in 2011 before skipping High-A altogether and posting solid numbers in Double-A in 2012. Walker bounced back in 2013, slicing through his competition (striking out at least 26% of batters) before getting the big league call up at the end of August. He finished the season on a high note, throwing five innings against Houston Astros, giving up two runs but walking just one batter and striking out eight (but then again, they were the Astros).

While the young righty has met and exceeded all expectations, the Mariners have placed a very heavy workload on his right arm. After throwing 94 2/3 innings over three season in high school (including 67 1/3 in his senior year), Walker threw 96 2/3 in 2011, 126 2/3 in 2012 and 156 1/3 innings in 2013. While he hadn’t thrown a lot before joining the Mariners organization, it appears that the rate at which the innings have been increased could cause some strain down the line.

The shoulder soreness that showed up at the beginning of 2014’s spring training could either be a symptom of this workload or it could just be an early-season niggle that will go away on its own. Either way, Walker is looked upon as being either the #3 or #4 starter for the Mariners in 2014 and while he will have Felix Hernandez around for quite a while, Walker has potential ace material for fans to dream on.

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Tags: Seattle Mariners

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