When the Mariners traded Michael Saunders to the Blue Jays for starter J.A. Happ, there was going to be one unhappy Mariners starting pitcher. When manager Lloyd McClendon came out and said, “We didn’t acquire J.A. Happ to pitch in the bullpen,” someone was going to have to take the fall for this move. It’s always good to have depth, so it looks as if the Mariners will have a very good starting pitcher at AAA Tacoma when camp breaks.
Last season Roenis Elias, the Cuban transport, made the jump from Double-A straight to the majors after a fantastic Spring Training, and he sure didn’t disappoint with a 3.85 ERA and 10 wins in 29 starts. He was a solid option as one of the only lefty starters on the team and as a rookie, you couldn’t have asked for much more from him. If he were to make the staff this year, he would be one of three southpaws in the rotation for Seattle this year, which could create an interesting dynamic.
The other competitor for the fifth spot in the rotation is highly touted prospect Taijuan Walker. Walker has made eight starts in his career at the major league level, but hasn’t been on an Opening Day roster yet. This spring, he is looking like he has a slight grip on that fifth spot in the rotation, but the competition isn’t over quite yet.
Walker has definitely had the best spring out of the two. In four starts, he has a 0.00 ERA, a 13:3 K/BB ratio, and has only given up four hits in 12 innings pitched. He has looked very dominant and has regained the velocity on his fastball, which is back up to about 98 MPH. He had lost some velo coming off a few injuries in 2014, but it looks like he has recaptured what made him so highly touted while in the minor leagues. Walker’s put-away pitch is his lethal 12-6 curveball, and that is something to watch.
Elias is one of those guys who just plain gets it done. He locates his pitches well and when he is on, he is hard to touch. His one knock is that he can get a little wild sometimes. He can get himself into some trouble with walks and that is where he is most vulnerable. This spring, the Cuban lefty has struggled a bit. Elias has only walked four, but has given up 18 hits in 12 innings pitched while posting a 3.86 ERA, which is hurting his case to win that final spot.
The loser of this competition will obviously be upset, but they definitely have a great shot at returning to the big league club at some point this season. Starting pitching is one of the best places you can have depth on a ball club, and the Mariners look like they will have a Major League-caliber pitcher at the minor league level as an option.
A small wildcard to this situation is Erasmo Ramirez, who is out of minor league options, but don’t look for him to make much of an impact. In addition, James Paxton is making his first start Sunday so it isn’t totally guaranteed that he will make the opening day roster, but he will for sure take Elias’ spot if when he comes back if he doesn’t make it at first.
In my opinion, Taijuan Walker is having too good of a Spring Training to keep him off of the 25-man roster, which is why I believe that he will win the final spot in the rotation. Elias is still a quality pitcher, but like I said earlier, depth is a great thing on a ball club that is looking to make a run at the postseason. Walker is someone whose ceiling is very high and can do very well in the big leagues. By adding a power arm like Walker to a rotation that already includes the likes of Iwakuma and Hernandez, the Mariners’ rotation is arguably one of the best in the Majors.