Mariners Season Preview: Taijuan Walker


Will 2016 be Taijuan Walker’s breakout season?

There has been a lot of hype surrounding Taijuan Walker ever since he was drafted by the Mariners out of Yucaipa high school in the first round of the 2010 draft. Mariners fans have been ‘hyped’ for the future since Dustin Ackley was drafted in 2009, but we’ve just been disappointed with prospect after prospect.

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Ackley was traded to the Yankees last year and Justin Smoak was gone before the year even began. Jesus Montero is still with the club but certainly hasn’t lived up to any of the expectations he came with. Danny Hultzen has yet to make the big leagues after battling arm troubles. Even Mike Zunino will most likely start the season in AAA after hitting .174 over 112 games in 2015.

Walker is one of the few bright spots that remain from the Jack Zduriencik era, and after making 29 starts last season, he may be able to live up to all of his hype in 2016.

The Good

Walker struck out 157 batters and walked 40 over 169.2 innings pitched last year. At only 23 years old, he should be able to improve on those numbers this season. Walker’s average fastball speed last season was 94.38 mph, nearly 1.5 mph faster than the league average of 92.90 mph.

As he grows, the 6-foot-4, 235 pound flamethrower will get stronger and could potentially throw harder. Walker is also gaining more command of the strike zone. In 2014 he was throwing for strikes on 63.4 percent of his pitches and improved to 65.5 percent in 2015.

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Gaining more experience and throwing more quality strikes could put Walker in the position to have a breakout season after learning a lot over the past couple of years.

The Bad

Despite the sexy fastballs and the strikeouts, Walker posted a dismal 4.56 ERA last season. You can collect all the strikeouts in the world, but if you’re allowing hits and runs between those strikeouts then you’ll get into trouble.

Walker allowed 163 hits last year, almost one an inning, and opposing hitters batted .252 against him. He really needs to cut down on the hits he allows this season. Of course that’s an obvious statement and is much easier said than done. But if he can work on hitting his spots and throwing quality strikes, he can miss more bats and really come into his own.

The Future

Most likely locking down the fourth spot in the rotation, Walker will play a key role in whether or not the Mariners have success this season. Assuming Felix, Kuma, and Miley do their jobs this year, having a consistent number four starter could put them over the edge.

Baseball Reference projects Walker to have an ERA of 4.10 with 137 strikeouts across 147 innings. They think he will go 9-7 and allow over 8 hits and 1 home run a game. Fangraphs perhaps sees more potential in Walker, predicting him to have a record of 11-11 in 31 starts and reach 184 innings while striking out 172 with a 3.68 ERA.

Next: Mariners Top 20 Prospects: #15 LHP Danny Hultzen

I know the statistical value of the “win” is pretty much out the window now, but having a fourth starter put up 11 wins and flirt with the 200 mark in both innings and strikeouts would be phenomenal. Not many other rotations in the league would be able to compete with that. Only time will tell if Walker will have a breakout season in 2016, and if the ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ fan one day becomes the Fresh Prince of Seattle under our almighty King Felix.