Taijuan Walker To Make Life More Interesting
I remember an awful lot about Felix Hernandez’s major-league debut in 2005. I hardly remember anything from conversations I had with people literally just last night, but Felix’s debut is crystal clear. I remember exactly how I felt, exactly how excited I was all morning long. I remember exactly where I was when I tuned in, and I remember almost exactly how I explained it to my boss, since I was at work. I remember exactly what I said when MLB.tv loaded up for the matinee in Detroit: “just what the **** is up with this camera angle?” And I remember dealing with that camera angle, willingly, because I didn’t have a choice, but more because, whoa, Felix.
Taijuan Walker is not Felix Hernandez. He’s not that level of prospect, and he probably won’t become that level of pitcher (today be damned) (seriously) (like, damned, literally). But Walker is one of the very best pitching prospects in baseball, and he’s Mariners property, and he’s going to make his big-league debut this coming Friday against the Astros, taking Aaron Harang’s place in the rotation. Walker’s debut, then, won’t come with the anticipation preceding Felix’s debut, but we’re all collectively more desperate now, and I remember what it was like when we first got glimpses of Michael Pineda. This should be kind of like that. Walker is that kind of electric.
And incomplete. They’re all always some degree of incomplete, and Walker’s definitely still got work to do. Pineda didn’t yet have a good changeup. Walker doesn’t yet have a consistent pitch below the high-80s. All the Mariners’ pitching prospects are flawed, and they could’ve played it safe by giving Friday’s start to, hell, I don’t know, Blake Beavan. Hector Noesi. Someone uninteresting but someone we wouldn’t have to pay close attention to, someone who could suck without it mattering. It’s going to be Walker, though — there’s a press release and everything — and there’s a buzz. If nothing else, the news is a convenient distraction from the fact that the Mariners suck again.
As usual, I could approach this with a negative perspective if I so desired. There’s a good argument to be made that Walker shouldn’t be coming up yet. After throwing a bunch of strikes early on with Tacoma, more recently Walker has struggled with his location. Everything but his fastball has been inconsistent, and he doesn’t have the wipeout slider that Pineda was able to rely on. Walker, also, will gather a month’s worth of big-league service time, making it more likely the Mariners won’t bother caring about that potential seventh year of control. This feels like it’s a pattern for them — it’s noble, arguably, but it’s also business-inefficient. This can be messy to discuss.
And Walker isn’t on the 40-man roster. He’s about to be. The Mariners have open slots, so they won’t have to dump anyone, but they didn’t need to give a spot to Walker yet. They could’ve used that spot elsewhere, say, on a talented waiver claim or what have you. Dave has written in the past about the value of 40-man roster flexibility, and it’s not irrelevant. It’s one of those things that matters a little bit, and if you put together a bunch of things that matter a little bit, you can end up with one towering pile of beans.
But I can’t summon the energy to actually be down about this. Sure, it’s not the best move the Mariners could make, and they haven’t exactly earned the benefit of the doubt, but, it’s happening, and the upside is that Walker is neat. So maybe he’s not ready. He could benefit from the brief experience, and Friday he’ll just have to go through the Astros instead of a real team with real players on it. The Mariners probably weren’t going to utilize any service-time shenanigans. And the Mariners probably weren’t going to use their 40-man roster flexibility all clever-like. And there are players on the roster who probably don’t need to be, and how often do waiver claims end up mattering? Oddly, this would be a more questionable move were it made by a sharper organization. This being the Mariners, it feels like less is lost. They aren’t going to be brilliant about things, so now they’ll be non-brilliant while paying Walker more money.
And at the end of the day, Taijuan Walker is going to make life more interesting. Not for long, not in 2013 — he’s approaching an innings limit. But he gives people something to care about, at a time when it’s otherwise terrifyingly easy to forget the Mariners exist. With guys like Nick Franklin and Brad Miller and Mike Zunino, it’s fun to catch glimpses of a possible future in which they’re solid regulars. Walker could and should offer glimpses of more than that — sometimes, Walker’s going to look like an ace, and people love potential aces. Potential aces allow people to daydream, and if Walker does well, people will be illustrating futures with Felix and Walker at the front of the rotation. Hell, if Walker’s really good, right away, on his own he could make people think 2014 could be a special year. One player, of course, can’t make that kind of difference, but there are people desperate to grasp, and Walker’s talent is eminently graspable.
This feels like an opportunity to not have the season end on a sour note. If Walker pitches well, people will get ahead of themselves. If he doesn’t, at least people will have seen his fastball and his cutter and his curve and the rest, and they’ll imagine a more controlled, harnessed future. Nothing tickles the baseball fan quite like pure stuff, and Walker’s got it. He’s also got the look and the personality, so already he’s likable, without having ever thrown a pitch in Seattle. Taijuan Walker’s promotion is a thing to care about.
The Mariners haven’t been interesting. People thought they would be, when they introduced the youth infusion, but bad baseball is bad baseball, no matter who’s performing it. One way to make baseball more interesting is to play better at it. Another way is to add more youth. More youth is being added, and even though it’s probably not a terrific decision on the organization’s part, it’s by no means crippling, and all we want as Mariners fans is to be able to give a crap about the Mariners. Every last one of us can give a crap about Taijuan Walker.