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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

July 8, 2011 at 1:12 PM

M’s pitching prospect Taijuan Walker on the rise

Here is today’s Mariner minor-league report.

As you can see, Taijuan Walker, the 18-year-old pitcher (he turns 19 on Aug. 13) who was the M’s top draft pick last year, turned in a sensational outing last night, probably his best as a pro. In Clinton’s 3-0 win over Cedar Rapids, Walker worked six shutout innings, allowing just one hit while walking two and striking out 11. The 11 K’s tied his career high, and gave Walker 83 whiffs in 62 innings. He has a 2.76 ERA and has allowed just 45 hits, with 27 walks.

Statistics are one thing. It’s Walker’s stuff that is starting to catch the eye of scouts. I talked to one promiment long-time MLB talent evaluator yesterday — a former general manager — who is dazzled by Walker’s potential. “He’s got a special arm,” he said. There were a few people who looked askance last year when the Mariners took Walker in the first supplemental round (No. 43 overall) out of Yucaipa (CA) High School, where he made more of a mark in basketball than baseball. But Walker is showing that he has a chance to be a steal.

Earlier this week, Baseball America came out with its mid-season top 50 prospects list, and only one Mariner made it — Walker at No. 38 (Dustin Ackley had been No. 12 and Michael Pineda No. 16 on their preseason Top 100 list, but both are ineligible now that they’re in the majors. Also shortstop Nick Franklin was No. 53 heading into the season, but the midseason list stops at 50).

That’s quite a rise in half a season for Walker, from not even cracking the top 100 to No. 38. Walker is No. 4 on Baseball America’s latest Prospects Hot Sheet, which highlights players whose stock is on the rise. They write:

“Walker bounced back from his worst start of the season with two sterling starts this week. He gave up five earned runs in five innings on June 27, thanks primarily to handing out five walks. He still had good stuff that night, though, as he managed to strike out eight, and he fanned at least eight in four straight starts. He had his best outing of the year Thursday against Cedar Rapids, striking out 11 over six shutout innings. Being the youngest pitcher in the Midwest League hasn’t fazed Walker, as he improved to 3-4, 2.76 in 62 innings.”

With Mariner fans understandably hungry for bats to emerge from the farm system (Look for outfielder Guillermo Pimentel to rapidly become the new offensive fixation of the minor leagues, I predict; he had a two-homer game yesterday for Pulaski and is absolutely tearing up the Appalachian League), Walker is a pitcher to watch closely in the coming years as he moves up the minor-league ladder.

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