The pressure of being a top pitching prospect can be very overwhelming. For Taijuan Walker however, some of the pressure on Walker is relieved thanks to the presence of a pitcher named Felix Hernandez — I don’t know if you’ve heard of him — atop the Seattle Mariners’ rotations. With Hernandez holding that spot down Walker’s expectations drop off a bit, but there is still a lot expected from him.
Walker is one huge man who is built like a linebacker or a Kam Chancellor safety-type. He is arguably the best athlete on the Mariners and standing at 6’4” 235 lbs, he is one intimidating figure standing on the mound.
The big right-hander has had some incredible struggles in the early going so far. After turning in some stellar numbers in Spring Training, a lot of people are wondering what has happened to a guy who seemed so ready to burst onto the national scene.
Throughout Walker’s time in the minor leagues, he was a highly touted prospect with big upside. When Seattle finally brought him up in 2013, he was what the Mariners had been waiting for. The learning curve didn’t seem like a problem at first, but now after making his first Opening Day roster, things haven’t necessarily gone as planned.
Walker has struggled mightily through his first six starts of 2015. He has posted a record of 1-3 with an 8.13 ERA (5.30 FIP). His K/9 is 8.78, which is the highest of his brief Major League career. He has walked his fair share of batters, however, as his BB/9 is at 4.55, which is also his highest in the early stages of his MLB career. It hasn’t been a start to 2015 that anyone has necessarily wanted out of Walker, but because he is so young and because this is his first full MLB season, no one should be too worried.
Walker’s last start vs. Oakland was one that he needed badly. His pitch count and walk rate weren’t fantastic, but he got through five innings and only gave up three runs. Now this may not sound like the best outing in the world, but this outing could be the turning point of his season after some very bad outings in April. This game was the first win of a three game sweep of Oakland so maybe this could be the turning point for the Mariners as well as Taijuan.
Walker has a nasty arsenal of pitches and when they are working, you better watch out. He can pump his fastball up to around 97 MPH and lives in the mid-to-upper 90s with his fastball. When he wants a punch out, he can go to his filthy 12-6 curveball that will make hitters look silly. It’s all about setting his pitches up and being able to put hitters away with two strikes.
In 2015, Walker has struggled with walks and high pitch counts early in games. In order for Walker to correct that and get back to where he was in the latter parts of 2013 and 2014, he needs to set up his pitches to get people out. Adapting to the big leagues can take some time and with Walker, he hasn’t had a multitude of starts to get into a comfort zone in the Majors. He was on an innings count last season when he got the call and this season, he has yet to find a comfort zone.
Consistency is key once you get into the big leagues and Walker needs to get to that level. With the rest of the Mariners pitching staff starting to maybe turn a bit of a corner, the pressure will be on Taijuan to settle into a defined role and help get this team where they think they should be which is October and the Postseason. Taijuan is a key piece to this puzzle and if he can gain consistency and become the pitcher we all thought he would be and still can be, the Mariners will greatly benefit.
Felix Hernandez is 6-0 and the rest of the Mariners starters have combined for four wins total. If Walker can consistently turn in quality starts and give the ball club chances to win games, this team is going to be very dangerous as this season progresses.
Taijuan Walker could be a key component for the Mariners down the stretch and since the Mariners are a team that had one of the best pitching staffs in the Majors in 2014, they have the potential to turn it around and make some noise in 2015, but it all starts with their pitching.