MLB Team Report - Seattle Mariners - INSIDE PITCH
It has taken only two starts at Triple-A Tacoma for right-hander Taijuan Walker to move to the front of the pack among the Mariners' four up-and-coming pitching prospects.
The 20-year-old Walker has the organization drooling at his potential after throwing 11 consecutive innings of shutout baseball since being called up from Double-A Jackson late last month. Walker joined prospects Danny Hultzen, James Paxton and Brandon Maurer in the Tacoma Rainiers' rotation and did not disappoint during his first two starts.
His 2-0 record, 0.00 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 11 innings at Triple-A tell only part of the story as the Mariners try to stay patient with the organization's most gifted young starter.
The only question with Walker is when he'll crack the major leagues, and the short answer seems to be any time after 2013. He already has thrown 95 innings at Double-A and Triple-A this season, and the organization won't be in a hurry to push him to the top -- despite a shaky back of the rotation at the big-league level.
"You have to put it all in perspective," general manager Jack Zduriencik said. "He's just 20 years of age. He's accomplished a lot of things, and he's a very special talent. You look at what he brings to the table and what he's done at a young age, and you're always cautious."
Walker entered the season as Seattle's No. 2 prospect -- and No. 18 in all of baseball, according to Baseball America -- and the June promotion of catcher Mike Zunino leaves the 20-year-old right-hander as the best of what's left.
Walker's age was a factor in him being the odd man out when it came to setting the Rainiers' rotation at the start of the season, but his 2.46 ERA, .195 opponent batting average and strikeout-to-walk ratio of more than 3-to-1 (96-to-30 over 84 innings) at Double-A Jackson led to last week's promotion to Triple-A.
Walker has certainly proven up to the competition so far, and all indications are that he'll be a serious factor in the battle for spots in the 2014 rotation.
The 2010 draft pick, when he was only 17 years old, made so much of an early impact that Baseball America named him the organization's top athlete and owner of the top fastball in 2011. He spent his first three seasons in the organization staying at one level -- Rookie League in 2010, low-A ball in 2011, Double-A in 2012 -- before getting his first midseason promotion last week.
"We thought he was well-prepared to go to Triple-A," Zduriencik said. "We thought it was a challenge that would be good for us and good for him."
Walker's physical tools stand out the most.
"He's arguably the best athlete in the organization, case closed," Zduriencik said. "You put that ability on the mound, and it's a pretty special combination. He has a fastball in the high 90s, he's developed a nice cutter, he's got a really good curveball, and he's got a slider and changeup. Right now we've seen the development of his secondary pitches, and that's been encouraging to see."
Hultzen and Paxton might have the inside track on future roster spots because they're both left-handers, and 23-year-old veteran Erasmo Ramirez seems to be the pick as the next Tacoma pitcher to get the call from Seattle. But Walker is certainly pushing his way into conversations for 2014 roster spots.
With every solid start Walker makes at Triple-A, and each week that goes by with the Mariners further and further out of the 2013 pennant race, fans in Seattle are going to start itching to see the young phenom at Safeco Field by the end of the summer. But that's an itch the Mariners aren't that eager to scratch.
"You just let it play itself out," Zduriencik said. "There's a lot that can happen to players. You don't try to read into anything; you just let it play out.
"No need to rush. I'm never one to put a damper on anyone's hopes and dreams, but in the end he's going to be a big-league pitcher -- whether it's this year or next year or whenever it happens -- and that's something you keep in mind with these things."
MLB Team Report - Seattle Mariners - NOTES, QUOTES
STREAK: Won one
PAST 10 GAMES: 4-6
NEXT: Mariners (Felix Hernandez, 8-4, 2.70) at Rangers (Derek Holland, 6-4, 3.14)
--CF Michael Saunders was held out of the lineup for a third consecutive game due to an injury to his right hand. Saunders said he hopes to return to the lineup by the end of the week.
--RHP Felix Hernandez is scheduled to face the Rangers for the 37th time Wednesday. Hernandez is 12-18 with a 3.87 ERA in 36 starts against the Rangers and has not picked up a win in Texas since 2010.
--OF Dustin Ackley returned to the lineup after being held out Sunday due to a sprained thumb. He went 1-for-5 and drove in a run in the 9-2 win over Texas.
--LHP Joe Saunders picked up his first win at Rangers Ballpark in seven attempts on Tuesday night. Saunders pitched 6 2/3 innings, with five strikeouts, one earned run and a walk to go along with 10 hits.
--DH Kendrys Morales recorded his 10th multi-homer game, hitting one in the first to go along with a three-run homer in the fifth. Morales added an RBI single in the sixth to push his total to six RBI in Seattle's 9-2 win over Texas.
--OF Michael Morse (quad) is eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list Friday, but manager Eric Wedge is uncertain about whether he's ready for a rehab stint. "We have to make sure that's all behind him so he's available in the outfield when he does come back," Wedge told The Seattle Times after Morse accompanied the team on its trip to Texas this week.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He's arguably the best athlete in the organization, case closed. You put that ability on the mound, and it's a pretty special combination. He has a fastball in the high 90s, he's developed a nice cutter, he's got a really good curveball, and he's got a slider and changeup. Right now we've seen the development of his secondary pitches, and that's been encouraging to see." -- GM Jack Zduriencik, on star pitching prospect Taijuan Walker.
MLB Team Report - Seattle Mariners - ROSTER REPORT
--OF Dustin Ackley (sprained thumb) sat out the June 30 game but returned July 2.
--CF Michael Saunders (right hand) was held out of the lineup for a third consecutive game July 2. Saunders said he hopes to return to the lineup by the end of the week.
--CF Franklin Gutierrez (torn right hamstring) went on the 15-day disabled list April 23, and he was transferred to the 60-day DL on June 5. He began a rehab assignment with Triple-A Tacoma on May 16. He was shut down in early June, but he began a new rehab assignment with Tacoma on June 12. He was activated June 22, but he had to come out in the seventh inning June 23 when his hamstring tightened up. He was back on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to June 24.
--1B/OF Michael Morse (strained right quadriceps) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to June 21. He did running drills July 2.
--C Jesus Sucre (sprained left wrist) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to June 6.
--RHP Stephen Pryor (torn right lat muscle) went on the 15-day disabled list April 15, and he was transferred to the 60-day DL on May 17.
--C Jesus Montero (torn left meniscus) is expected to be out until late June or early July after undergoing surgery in early June. He isn't on the disabled list because he was optioned to the minors before he got injured.
RHP Felix Hernandez
RHP Hisashi Iwakuma
LHP Joe Saunders
RHP Aaron Harang
RHP Jeremy Bonderman
RHP Yoervis Medina
RHP Tom Wilhelmsen
LHP Charlie Furbush
LHP Oliver Perez
RHP Carter Capps
RHP Danny Farquhar
RHP Blake Beavan
1B Justin Smoak
2B Nick Franklin
SS Brendan Ryan
3B Kyle Seager
DH Kendrys Morales
INF Brad Miller
CF Michael Saunders
RF Endy Chavez
LF Raul Ibanez
OF Jason Bay
OF/INF Dustin Ackley