Taijuan Walker — who was ranked No. 18 on Baseball America’s Top 100 prospect list released today — threw his first live batting practice of the spring.
Walker threw a lot of curve balls in his stint, and told us afterward he’s changed to what is called a “spike curve.” It involved digging the nail on your middle finger into the seam, and it is supposed to lead to a sharp late break, somewhat akin to a knuckle curve. Phil Hughes is among those who throw a spike curve.
“Last year, during the season, I kind of got away from my curve ball,’’ Walker said. “I wanted to make sure I came into camp with my curve ball ready. I wanted to throw a lot just to make sure I had it. I switched to a spike. I’ve been working on that a lot. The first time throwing against hitters, the spike curve, I need to locate it better. I felt it was sharper than the other curves I’ve thrown in the past. I have to keep throwing it and get comfortable.’’
It was not a particularly comfortable at-bat for the five players who faced him – Michael Morse, Kyle Seager, Nick Franklin, Casper Wells and Vinnie Catricala.
Seager, who had just about the only hard-hit ball, a grounder into right field, said of Walker, “Very easy, very fluid, very effortless delivering — the ball gets on you. He’s got really good stuff.”
Walker said he threw about 80 to 90 percent of full speed – except when his command left him a couple of times.
“I got a little frustrated with myself so I kind of bumped it up,’’ he said. “I felt I wasn’t locating very well with my pitches. You always want to locate, especially your fastball.’’
He said of Morse, “I threw a couple of fastballs. Thank God he didn’t touch any of them, or they probably would have gone a long way.”
Manager Eric Wedge said he doesn’t try to read too much into the first outing against live pitching.
“He’s stronger,’’ he observed. “He looks good. The first time out with hitters, you kind of keep your distance early on, but games are coming quick. It’s good to see him. He looks like he’s throwing good.”
What are the Mariners looking for in Walker this season?
“Overall command,” Wedge said. “Obviously, he has all the stuff. It’s just a matter of gaining more experience, getting more innings under his belt, and working ahead.”
Back to the Baseball America list: Mike Zunino was the top of five Mariners in the top 100, ranking 17th — one spot ahead of Walker. Danny Hultzen came in at 29, Nick Franklin at 79 and James Paxton at 87.