As we continue our journey through the bargain bin of back end pitchers, we arrive at another higher end potential / lightning in the bottle type - Taijuan Walker. Admittedly, Walker is the one I’m most excited about of the remaining bargain buys - but that’s before digging into him a bit more - let’s see if it holds up.
Who is Taijuan Walker?
Walker, 27, is a 6’4, 235 lb a right handed pitcher earning the 43rd overall pick of the 2010 draft, was considered extremely projectable but raw due to limited experience with prior focus on basketball and shortstop.
Here was what John Sickels had to say about him when he was the prospect of the day in 2013:
“As you can imagine given his amateur background, he’s an excellent all-around athlete who took well to mound work once he moved there full-time. His fastball has been clocked as high as 98 MPH and fits comfortably in the 93-95 range most of the time. Unlike many young power pitchers, he commands the fastball well and hits his locations, not relying on just pure velocity to blow people away.
The key for Walker has been steady development of his secondary pitches. He has a slow curveball, a harder cutter, and a traditional change-up to mix with the heat. The curveball was erratic early in his career but has improved greatly over the last 12 months. The cutter is a new addition to the arsenal but it developed into an out-pitch quickly. His change-up remains his weakest offering but it is useable. At his best, when all four pitches are working, Walker can hit any velocity slot between 70 and 98 MPH.
Walker has an easy and consistent delivery. It is hoped that the combination of his mechanics and his premium athleticism will help him avoid injury. His makeup is considered a positive; he’s bright, confident, works hard, is mature for his age, and hasn’t looked out of place at all against older competition.
His command is still inconsistent and he’s had some high-walk outings lately for Tacoma, walking four hitters in three of his last four starts. Despite that glitch, Walker has had a great season overall, meeting or exceeding all expectations. Assuming all the standard caveats about injuries, Walker has everything necessary to be a top-line starter. He’ll probably need some adjustment time, but the physical ingredients and the in-game pitching skills are all here.”
Since breaking into the majors in 2013, Walker has never truly put it all together. He has had flashes of dazzling ERA’s in 2014 (2.61) and looked like he may truly break out after a 3.49 ERA in 157.1 IP in 2017, but has continually had limited starts due to injury and ultimately lost the last two seasons to injury.
His 3.95 ERA, 4.11 xFIP, and 4.08 SIERA show him more as an average pitcher than the ace everyone once dreamed on. Even his best seasons look to be a bit more luck driven given that the lowest his xFIP has ever been in a season is 3.80.
Walker’s fastball velocity has continued to drop although it’s tough to say if that will change once he has fully recovered from his injuries. Walker still features good velocity, but is definitely not a high-spin rate type of target. His pitches throughout his career average have been below average.
What would it cost?
An extremely important question given the Astros restrictions if they intend to find a way to stay below the second level of the competitive balance threshold.
Arizona cut him rather than paying him $5 Million in arbitration. I’d estimate somewhere around that number would be the cost to sign him.
Honestly, I’m a bit disappointed as I had thought higher of Walker before researching the article. While he was once a very hyped prospect, even his best years seem to be more of a product of excellent luck than showing the potential of an ace-caliber bounce back.
His arsenal does not align well with the Brent Strom Magic Method, and there’s no easy elimination of a pitch for improvement. While he’s still more than young enough to have a turn around, his health is anything but certain going forward.
I’m going to have to put Taijuan Walker as a pass for me as well.
Should the Astros pursue Taijuan Walker?
This poll is closed