It’s been a rocky, inconsistent year for the Seattle Mariners, for whom much was expected by many. They are likely to finish more than a couple games below .500, comfortably out of the very attainable second wild-card position. The stunted development of many of their young, homegrown players, including Mike Zunino and the since departed Dustin Ackley, was a major factor. Early on, it looked like Taijuan Walker, who just recently turned 23, was part of the problem. Around Memorial Day, he began to look like part of the solution. Which version of Walker is the one we can expect to see moving forward?
I was a member of the Mariner front office in 2010, and had extensive involvement in the amateur draft. We did not have a first-round selection that year, but did possess a sandwich-round pick, received as compensation for the loss of Adrian Beltre. As one might expect, our draft board was shot full of holes as our turn approached. We thought very highly of Walker; he was in the top 15 of our board. He was joined there by a couple of other righ-handed pitchers, Aaron Sanchez and Asher Wojciechowski, followed by a bunch of blank spaces where other draft magnets had once resided. The Blue Jays had a bunch of compensation picks that year, and selected both of those guys before our turn arrived.
We were thrilled to select Walker. Great athlete, multi-sport star, easy velocity with feel for his curve ball, very few miles on his arm. As an added bonus, he didn’t turn 18 until August of his draft year. When you’re dealing with a projectable high school athlete, in particular, those few months are actually a pretty big deal. The product of Yucaipa HS in Southern California wasn’t a sure thing, with little track record to speak of, even by high school standards, but the raw materials suggesting potential stardom were certainly in place.
He dominated from the get-go in the minors, breaking camp at full-season Low-A Clinton in his first full pro season. Each year, I compile my own ordered minor-league lists of top full-season-league position-player and starting-pitcher prospects based on performance and age relative to league and level. These basically serve as follow lists, with the orders then tweaked based on traditional scouting methods. Walker ranked in the top 20 in each of his four minor-league seasons, peaking at #7 following the 2013 season. This combination of upside and consistency marked him as a likely major-league star.
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