With Spring Training winding down, clubs are starting to make their final decisions on who will and who will not be around on Opening Day. This is the time of year where some tough decisions must be made and some players will have to spend more time than they would prefer in the minor leagues.
If you don’t come out right away and compete for a spot, you might find yourself in the wrong place at the end of camp. There have been two players in the Cactus League this year that have shined and played way beyond their years. These two players are Seattle Mariners pitcher, Taijuan Walker and Chicago Cubs infielder, Kris Bryant. Bryant and Walker are playing about as well as they can and are both in a great spot to be on the roster when camp breaks.
Walker and Bryant are easily comparable. Both of these guys came up through their respective teams’ systems as top prospects and if they carry their fantastic Spring Training performances to the big stage, the Cubs and Mariners will greatly benefit. In addition, both Walker and Bryant came into the spring competing for a spot on their respective 25-man rosters. The North-siders along with the team up in the Pacific Northwest have built from the bottom up and they are looking to return to the playoffs for the first time in a long, long time. With the help of these two young stars, that goal could become a reality.
Taijuan Walker, the 6”4”, 209 pound righty pitcher, was drafted 43rd overall in the 2010 draft by Seattle and has worked his way up through the Minor Leagues as a highly touted prospect. In 2012, Baseball America ranked him as the 20th best prospect in the pros.
It isn’t just Walker’s mid to high-90s fastball or knee-buckling curveball that makes him so good, his athletic ability is off of the charts. GM Jack Zdurencik said on 710 ESPN Seattle last week that he is far and away the best athlete in the Mariners whole system. That tells you a lot about what kind of player he is right now and what he is capable of doing in Seattle for the Mariners down the road.
Kris Bryant was drafted 2nd overall in the 2013 draft and hasn’t disappointed as a pro. Coming out of the University of San Diego in 2013, Bryant was awarded the Golden Spikes Award given to the best amateur player in baseball. Since then, he has been highly touted all the way up through the minor leagues, and rightfully so. Baseball America currently ranks him as the top prospect in the game. In 2014, Bryant was given the Minor League Player of the Year award from both USA TODAY and Baseball America.
Bryant earns all of these awards because he can get it done. He has done it at every level and he is just about ready to make the jump up to the big leagues. The Cubs are pondering moving him to the outfield from third base because of some other prospects coming up, but don’t expect that situation to bother him when he steps into the box. If there are any questions about making the jump from the minors to the majors, just look at his Spring Training stat line. That should give you all of the answers you need to judge his big league readiness.
Taijuan Walker came into the season competing for the final spot in the Mariners pitching rotation and he has locked that spot down with his performance this spring. He will now be apart of one of the best rotations in baseball and with his competitive edge he has, there is no way that that will overwhelm him.
Kris Bryant, on the other hand, was just trying to win a spot. He has had arguably the best spring in the entire league, but it doesn’t appear he will get a spot on the 25-man roster because Theo Epstein doesn’t think he is ready. That is a whole other story that has been well documented. Even if Bryant isn’t there right away, he will be up sooner rather than later.
Walker and Bryant both needed to have good camps and they have both surpassed expectations, I think it is safe to say. Kris Bryant has been off the charts. He has clobbered nine home runs in 12 games and has a slash line of .406/.472/1.313. Taijuan Walker has put up numbers that will also make your jaw drop. In 18 innings pitched he has given up zero runs, has struck out 19 and has only given up six hits. These two guys’ numbers are absolutely absurd and they are both taking the Cactus League by storm. If there were MVP and Cy Young awards given out in Spring Training, I don’t think anyone would have a problem with these two winning the two awards.
If one of these two young guys comes to a ballpark near you, I would urge you to get there and see them because they will be two fun youngsters to watch this season and in the future. Now, I don’t expect the Spring Training numbers to be exactly the same during the regular season, but don’t be surprised if the drop off isn’t all that much. If these two guys are poster-children for the next crop of young talent, I think we are in good hands as baseball fans.