Q&A: Taijuan Walker, High-Ceiling Mariner

Taijuan Walker is more than the top pitching prospect in the Seattle Mariners organization. The 20-year-old right-hander is among the best in the game. With only 126 innings under his belt he remains a work in progress, but his ceiling is sky high.

A two-sport star at Yucaipa (California) High School — he also excelled in basketball — the 6-foot-4 Walker was taken 43rd overall in the 2010 draft. Blessed with athleticism and aptitude, as well as a mid-to-high-90s fastball, he profiles as a front-line starter.

Walker talked about his repertoire, which includes a newly-added pitch, during the Southern League playoffs.

——

Walker on his changeup: “My changeup has gotten a lot better since spring training and the end of last year. I’m comfortable throwing it in any count now. I’ve made really big strides with it.

“It’s just a regular straight change, a four-seam circle. I’ve tried many grips and this is pretty much the comfortable one and the one I like. Plus, I throw a lot of four-seam fastballs, so a four-seam changeup is going to benefit me more.

“You have to throw it like your fastball. You have to keep the same arm speed and let the grip do all the work. Sometimes I’ll throw it a little too hard, but I’m mostly been pleased with it. It ranges anywhere between 84 and 90, and I get a little downward movement and some arm-side run. Not a lot, but just enough.”

On his curveball and feel: “This year I didn’t really trust my curveball, so I kind of got away from it. I just wasn’t confident in it. In my last couple of starts, it’s been much better though. I’ve been trusting it more and throwing it more. Instead of trying to make it break, I’m letting the grip do its work. It’s going to be one of my key pitches. Every day I’m working on it, trying to perfect it.

“I was a big basketball player in high school and my pitching coach last year, Rich Dorman, would always use a lot of basketball analogies with me. He used them to help me understand pitching. When you throw a baseball, you feel it off your fingertips, just the same as when you’re shooting a basketball. You feel where the ball is going to go, whether you’re going to miss right or miss left. Same with pitching, inside or out.”

On his fastball: “Velocity is one of the biggest keys to my fastball. I can get away with missing my spot sometimes, just because I have the velocity that I do. I think I’ve topped out at 99 this year. But I can’t always get away with it, so I’m working on making my location better.

“You don’t ever want to be too fine. That’s when you get yourself in trouble. If you’re a hard thrower and can get your fastball in the area of the location where your catcher sets up, you should be fine most of the time.”

On missing bats and maturing as a pitcher:
“There are times and places where you want to pitch to contact, but there are other times… it depends on what type of pitcher you are, if you’re a power pitcher, or not.

“I don’t really pay attention to it too much, but it’s always good to get more ground balls than fly balls. If the wind is blowing straight out, and you’re a fly ball pitcher, that can kind of hurt you. Plus, with runners on, you can get double plays.

“I think this year was big for me. I feel like I’ve had to learn how to pitch and not just be a thrower. In Double-A, you can’t just throw fastballs and get away with it. You really have to pitch. You have to mix your pitches and throw off-speed in hitters’ counts. This league helped make more of a pitcher.”

On his newest pitch: “I just added a cutter a few weeks ago. In high school I threw a slider, and I wanted to add it back, but they wouldn’t let me. Now that I’m at a higher level, they’re allowing me to work on this pitch. Not as my strikeout pitch, but just to have it. It’s another look. I feel it can be a good contact pitch, off my fastball, to get a ground ball. Or maybe I can get a broken bat or a pop out. I’ve been throwing it from 88 to 92, but I’m still working on it and trying to figure out how much break I need on it and how hard I need to throw it.”



Print This Post



David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-March 2011 and is a regular contributor to several publications. His first book, Interviews from Red Sox Nation, was published by Maple Street Press in 2006. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Balthazar
Guest
Balthazar
3 years 9 months ago

It’s good to hear Walker’s progress on the change, and I’m particularly interested in the cutter he mentions. If he has a high 80s armside run on the hard change and a cutter of similar velocity with opposite cut he’ll be well positioned. Of course the curve is essential to his repertoire, and it was a bummer he seemed to lose it mid-year after having reputedly good feel for it the year before. The big thing for me will be Taijuan’s walk rates though. They’ve never been truly bad, but never gotten particularly good. Yes, he throws mid-90s, but if there are locatin issues, as there seem to be, his secondary pitches will determine how well he can handle the Bigs his first time up. I still totally like his chances, and the dude’s only 20.

tdillon
Guest
tdillon
3 years 9 months ago

I think a few conversations with Felix will help him on his fastball approach. That approach seems a bit too thrower not pitcher to me, much like early Felix. Felix had the velocity as well as insane movement. Not sure if Walker can get away with that approach.

Kyle
Member
3 years 9 months ago

Excellent stuff. Very interesting that the M’s “wouldn’t let” him try and bring his slider back.

James
Guest
James
3 years 9 months ago

They just dodged a bullet with Pineda and his slider.

Ryan C
Guest
Ryan C
3 years 9 months ago

It’s most common to produce arm injuries. The cutter is a nice medium, especially when he’s good enough on just 3 pitches.

marc w
Guest
3 years 9 months ago

They’ve done that a lot with their prospects. Jackson’s pitching coach last year, Lance Painter, taught cutters to a ton of pitchers who’ve moved through AA – from Stephen Pryor to Andrew Carraway – so the org may be more comfortable letting pitchers learn a slider-like pitch in AA from an instructor they trust.

Of course, Painter’s moving to High-A this year, so we’ll see what happens – they may even let some of the high ceiling arms GO to High Desert and brave the Cal League.

Balthazar
Guest
Balthazar
3 years 9 months ago

So Mark, thanks for pointing out Painter’s impact again. I’ll be particularly interested to see if the cutter helps Carraway for instance; it’s very much the kind of pitch that would augment his good command, so-so stuff repertoire.

And as to Kyle above re: canning Walker’s slider, that pitch has been an arm-wrecker for years, and Taijuan was not only so young he probably wasn’t done growing he’d also logged a well below average number of innings pitched at the point he was drafted. On the basis of risk alone, it was a good decision to part Taijuan from his favorite toy. The curve is anyway a much better offering anyway, being both a greater speed differential from Talker’s mid-90s fastball, a pitch that changes eye level and so a good contrast from a four-seamer anyway, and a groundball pitch if it’s working and desirable in that respect also. A third consideration is exactly what Walker speaks to in passing in the interview, that at the higher level Walker needs and will continue to need to _pitch_ rather than to just lean on a couple of offerings he’s ‘comfortable with.’ Better he be uncomfortable and do the learning now. I think Taijuan Walker’s been handled reasonably well by the Ms thus far.

maqman
Guest
maqman
3 years 9 months ago

Walker’s mother, who he is very close to, found out she had breast cancer around the All Star break. I think that had a lot to do with his fall off in the second half of the season. That’s got to be tough on a 19-year old young man. He’s a quality guy and I wish him all the best.

INGY
Guest
INGY
3 years 9 months ago

IF HE SPENDS HIS TIME CONCENTRATING ON THE BASEBALL FIELD INSTEAD OF RUNNIN WITH HIS “HOMIES” THIS YEAR HE WILL DO EVEN BETTER…..GOTTA ASK HIMSELF IF HE WANTS TO BE A BIG LEAGUER OR A GANG BANGER

wpDiscuz