Taijuan Walker is easily the best pitcher in the minor league system. That includes James Paxton who is coming on strong and fast down in AA. An argument could even be constructed that Walker is the better prospect over recent #2 pick Danny Hultzen should (when) he signs, though Hultzen is most likely the better pitcher as well as more advanced.
But, I’m not writing this in an effort to argue his placement on any lists but rather I saw a few people make an argument for Walker being promoted over this past week after his amazing complete game. Just in case you missed the games versus Great Lakes–the 18-year old pitcher–struck out 7 gave up 2 runs (both earned) on 2 hits and went the complete length of the game.
He now has an ERA of 2.66, is fifth in the league in strike outs (second in strikeouts per 9/innings, trailing only James Paxton) and has posted an SO/BB ratio of 3.21. He is also the youngest person in a league who’s average age is 21.7 years old.
So I when I started seeing people say he should be promoted I kind thought about it. But, see I hate the thought of him heading off to high desert. Actually, I hate the thought of any person in High Desert. But, even more the thought of sending off our prized pitcher to a pitchers hell doesn’t a ring as an attractive option to me.
So I buzzed my friend Chris Harris, the play-by-play announcer with the Mariners AA organization Jackson Generals, with this thought:
“Last year the Mariners sent 19 year-old Nick Franklin to then West Tennessee for a couple of games. Got his feet wet and all of 4 plate appearances before heading back to Clinton. Now, with his latest feat (a 2 R,1 BB, 7 SO, CG) in the books what do you think are the possibilities that 19 year-old stud Taijuan Walker could end up in the Jackson for a spot start or more likely a couple of spot appearances out of the bullpen in an effort to control his innings?”
“First and foremost I would love to see the guy. 90 K’s in 71 innings is pretty incredible. The gap from the Midwest League to the Southern League is pretty huge. Paxton’s first start, he really struggled. Now, tomorrow is his second start so we will see how he does. I would honestly be pretty surprised to see Walker with us this year. I think it is a little different for a pitcher, as opposed to a position player. The Mariners have no need to rush him through the system. It would not surprise me to see him finish the year in Clinton and start in High Desert next year.
There is a huge difference, especially in pitchers that have some college time and the ones that do not. It was probably an easier decision to move Paxton because he is older, and they felt he could make the transition and handle the failures he will see here. For Walker, it is probably best he stay and dominate the Midwest League for a year, get some confidence.
I don’t think I have seen in my 3 years a drafted high school pitcher that was in Double-A in their second year, much less their first. “.
His last statement got me thinking. Who have been the youngest pitchers in the southern league? Well a quick look through baseball-reference will tell you.
Erasmo Ramirez, 21 (just turned 21, May 2nd), 2011
Randall Delgado, 20, 2010
Jarrod Parker, 20, 2009
Travis Wood, 21, 2008
Jake McGee, 20, 2007
Matt Harrison, 20, 2006
A few weeks ago Jason Churchill said that he wouldn’t be surprised to see Walker spend the whole year down in Clinton. After looking at all the different young guys over the past five years and how they have come through the Southern League, I’m inclined to agree with him. Now, that said I wouldn’t be surprised to see him start the season off in Clinton have a bit of time in High Desert and then MAYBE a finish in Jackson, just right now that seems a bit too much, too soon.
The Mariners need to be careful with his young arm and even that thinking he could get to AA next year seems to be really aggressive. Considering the pitchers that we have in the rotation now and who we have coming through the system it seems unnecessary to push some of Walker’s caliber too hard. Give him time to let him develop and he could be a top of the rotation pitcher.