Taijuan Walker To Make Life More Interesting

Jeff Sullivan · August 28, 2013 at 9:56 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

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.


54 Responses to “Taijuan Walker To Make Life More Interesting”

  1. Hunter S. Thompson on August 30th, 2013 11:52 pm

    rich m, I’d say don’t feed the troll, but I believe you are earnest in you statements. I strongly disagree with most of what you say, and I’ll try to lay out my case.

    As for the customer is always right. Common phrase in general true, but not always. As a customer I want to pay $1 for a box seat and $1 for a jag bomb at ballpark. I can’t get those, because why the M’s should care what I want they should also pay attention to basic economics and supply and demand. Thus as a smart club they should balance trying to put the best team on the field now, against what is best for the future of the team.
    You are right service time is overvalued, but it has value, a 40 man spot has even more value, but these values change depending on the team and its standing.
    If the M’s were 2 to 3 wins away from the wildcard I’d say yes bringing up a promising catcher when he can’t hit AAA pitching because he’s better then what you have, I’d agree. But in a year when the season is lost it a bad choice. He wasn’t ready and we could have saved the 40 man until he was ready to actualy help not just be not crappy at the MLB level.
    As for Walker great first start, but he’s walking over 4.25 per nine at AAA, Paxon that man who has control problems is walking 3.5 per nine in AAA. Service clocks are improtant to some but for me these are two players on the forty man that we did not need to add. It’s two players we can’t take a flyer on or two more we need to cut. We have given up too many free players to simpley give away 40 man slots.

  2. rick m on August 31st, 2013 7:49 am

    Hunter, I think much of what you say makes sense, and I suspect that if there was a big wig Mariner meeting over this decision, yours and Steve’s and Dave’s viewpoints were well represented – at least I hope they were. But at the end of the meeting, Z makes the call, and when I say say ” the customer is always right” or “best player plays” these may sound like bromides to one, but are more like principles that help guide an organization’s head decider when its really close. And this call is really close.

    As for the 40 man roster, I look over it and I see a lot of guys I simply would not lose sleep over if we sent them off. A lot. Now, one or two of them may come back to bite us, but the same Z who turned fodder into Jaso (and Jaso into fodder, let’s be honest) will pull someone else’s discards into a major league player.

    More importantly, a decision needs to be made whether Walker will be a building block going forward, or trade bait. I would imagine Z would like to see a few starts at the big league level to help him make that call.

  3. rick m on August 31st, 2013 7:56 am

    One other thing, Hunter: when you said, “don’t feed the troll” you instinctively went to a boiled down principle. But you correctly interpreted the situation here as one that may need to go beyond that quick an easily stated principle, and engaged me instead. I commend you for practicing what you preach (there I go again).

  4. stevemotivateir on September 1st, 2013 7:52 am

    rich m, I’d say don’t feed the troll, but I believe you are earnest in you statements.

    Troll? Really?

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.