Seattle Mariners pitching prospect Taijuan Walker is getting the nod tomorrow versus the Houston Astros. Ranked No. 5 and 18 by MLB.com and Baseball America, respectively, Walker is fated to be a future ace simply because everyone says so.
In this scenario, “everyone” is probably right. But I’m part of the camp where each member believes it when he sees it. (I don’t know who runs this camp or where the counselors are, but it’s fun and I like it.)
I would love to buy into the Taijuan Walker craze right now, especially with so many talented young rookies making an impact this year and last. But Walker’s Triple-A line is a point of concern for me. Sure, he’s sitting on a 3.61 ERA and an attractive 10.0 K/9. But the WHIP… yikes, the WHIP and that BB/9 rate, man. A WHIP of 1.413 and coupled with more than four walks per nine innings scares me. It makes me think he wasn’t ready to transition to Triple-A, let alone the big show.
In his defense, his WHIP suffers from an inflated .331 BAbip. After adjusting it to his career rate, his WHIP is closer to 1.3 rather than 1.4, and once you consider he’s pitching in the allegedly hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, it would drop under 1.3, which makes it ultimately serviceable. But the walks are a problem for me. The 10 strikeouts-per-nine are flashy, but hitters in the majors are simply better — they will walk more and strike out less, and I think Walker’s slowly-increasing walk rate could spell problems for the young future ace in his first stint in the majors.
I’m not saying he won’t develop into an ace. Even New York Mets phenom Matt Harvey posted a 3.9 BB/9 and 1.32 WHIP during his stint in Triple-A before his call-up. I’m just saying maybe temper your expectations a bit. Don’t be surprised if there’s a prolonged adjustment period — for Pete’s sake, the kid’s 20 years old. And if you’re expecting him to change the landscape of the rest of your fantasy season, odds are he won’t.
But with the way these darned kids are impacting the game these days — and the way Safeco Field plays like a pitcher’s park — I like Walker as a nice sleeper in 2014. Too bad he’s got too much hype to be a sleeper. Maybe if you’re really keen on him, you’ll hope his debut is underwhelming.
Anyway, despite everything I just wrote, I would start pretty much anyone against the Astros these days. So if you’re thinking about streaming Walker tomorrow — my first streamer suggestion of the year! — go for it.