Taijuan Walker is set to make his 2014 MLB debut on Monday, June 30. He will be replacing the struggling Erasmo Ramirez in a surprising Seattle Mariner rotation – currently ranked in the top five in ERA, WHIP, and BAA.
Heading into the season, Walker was ranked as the number six overall prospect on MLB.com’s Prospect Watch; he is also the highest ranking prospect in the Seattle Mariners’ organization.
Thus far into his 2014 season, Walker has pitched well in AAA ball for the Tacoma Rainiers. He currently sports a 3.23 ERA after 30.2 innings pitched through six starts. Most recently, Walker threw a shutout on June 24.
Walker made his first career MLB appearance at the end of the 2013 season. He started just three games, pitching 15 innings and giving up six earned runs resulting in a 3.60 ERA.
Taking a look at more advanced statistics paints a better picture of Walker’s skill and potential at the MLB level. The MLB average for K/9 is around 8.0 – Walker has averaged over 10.0 K/9 throughout his time in A, AA, and AAA baseball.
The biggest problem for Taijuan Walker seems to be his control. In high school, Walker primarily played shortstop and didn’t become a pitcher until late in his career; this is likely the main contributing factor to his subpar control.
In 2013, the league average for MLB starting pitchers in BB/9 was right around the 3.0 mark. Up until the 2014 season, Walker had never had a BB/9 below 3.0 at any level. As his control develops, his BB/9 should continue to fall, only making him more valuable.
Despite his improving control, as well as strikeout and walk numbers, it would not be surprising to see Walker’s numbers drop considerably at the MLB level. Taking a look at last season, Walker had a 10.05 K/9, 26% K%, and 76.3% LOB% in AAA Tacoma. When he was finally called up to the show, all of Walker’s stats dropped considerably, resulting in a 7.20 K/9, 20% K%, and 53.3% LOB%. However, his control did improve, resulting in him walking fewer batters. It’s also important to note that while those stats did drop, he did have a very small sample size in the majors.
Luckily, for those interested in Walker, his MLB debut will coincide with a two start week. Even for fantasy baseball owners who don’t believe in Walker, he should provide good streaming value starting at the Houston Astros on Monday, June 30 and at the Chicago White Sox on Sunday, July 6.
For those owners that do own Walker, it is imperative to stay patient. If his first start or two don’t go as planned, he may just be adjusting. It’s easy to dump prospects that get out to a slow start, but don’t forget about George Springer who started out horrendous and now has 15 home runs to complement 41 RBIs. If he does start out bad, placing him on the bench until he turns it around would be a good idea.
It’s hard to accurately project new call-ups but I’ll do my best with Walker. Assuming he stays healthy and doesn’t suffer any setbacks, I project Walker to finish with a 4-3 record while posting a 3.52 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, and a 9.02 K/9.
Taijuan Walker looks like the real deal. He’s owned in 10.4% of ESPN Fantasy Baseball leagues. If he’s available, pick him up. At the very least, use him as a streamer for his two starts this week.
For more opinions and analysis visit our Fantasy Baseball page