If the Mariners had anything going for them at the start of the 2013 season, it was that they had one of the top minor league organizations in baseball. Starting pitchers Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Danny Hultzen, catcher Mike Zunino, shortstop Nick Franklin and second baseman Brad Miller were all highly regarded prospects that would soon see their time at the Major League level.
Zunino, Franklin and Miller were called up fairly early on and have seen significant playing time with the Mariners. All three have shown the ability to handle playing at the highest level and will be penciled in as starters when spring training opens for the 2014 season.
Of the “Big Three” starters mentioned above, only Hultzen has yet to see the inside of the Mariners clubhouse as an active member of the teams 25-man roster. Injuries have slowed down his progress and rather than being the first to be called up, as many had initially thought would be the case, he will be the last.
James Paxton made his debut earlier this week and was impressive. He’ll remain in the rotation for a bit longer until the front office decides it’s time to shut him down the same way they did with Taijuan Walker.
I wanted to take a look at how Walker did in all three levels that he played in during the 2013 campaign.
Taijuan Walker (Complete 2013 Statistics)
The Mariners babied Walker when he was called up. In each of his three starts, Walker only pitched five innings. Two of his starts came against the Houston Astros, one of the weakest teams in recent memory. That being said, other Mariner pitchers have had a tough time against them so we can’t use that as a reason to knock his performance.
Walker is a strike-out pitcher. This can be seen from his rates at the minor league level. In both AA and AAA, Walker had a rate exceeding 10 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched. The total went down after he arrived in Seattle, having struck-out only two batters in each of his first two starts. In his final start at Safeco Field, Walker sent 8 batters back to the dugout via the strikeout. This, again, in only 5 innings of work.
Things have progressively gotten more difficult for the 21-year old as he’s moved up the system, as is common and expected. Walker has shown the ability to adapt and continue to pitch at a high level regardless of who his opponents are. The last pitcher in the Mariners farm system that fit this description is now called “The King.”
The Mariners have had a tough time finding reliable pitchers to join the club behind Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma in the starting rotation. In 2014, I expect Taijuan Walker to be a full-time member.