Game 134, Taijuan Walker at Astros

marc w · August 30, 2013 at 2:44 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Taijuan Walker vs. Brad Peacock, 5:10pm

I’ve read Dave’s concerns about promoting Walker now, and the 40-man spot that it ties up over the offseason (an offseason that’s going to require quite a bit of movement). I’ve also read Jeff’s piece about letting go and just enjoying watching Tai Walker pitch for the M’s. I started off clearly in Dave’s camp, but as the hours tick down towards 5, I’m more and more in the “who cares…woohoo!” camp. That’s not to ignore the 40-man spot, or Walker’s impending innings cap, or any of the perfectly valid reasons to be a tiny bit squeamish about this. But as I’ve written for the past few days, it’s been really hard – it’s been impossible, really – to actually look forward to an M’s game. And here I am, really looking forward to watching an M’s game. For a fan base that’s been as brutalized as this one, on the very day a major off-season acquisition was quietly sent packing for a basic minor league OF, that’s important. It’s important to be reminded that it’s possible to really care about this team, and the development of a core group of players who could actually compete someday. Is this a low bar to get over? Yes, it is, but that doesn’t mean we’ve cleared it very often.

Taijuan Walker burst onto the prospect scene a few years ago after being drafted as an exceedingly raw athlete out of Yucaipa, CA. Many talent evaluators and front offices were impressed with his arm, but everyone noted that he’d had very little advanced coaching, and how he’d adapt to life as a pro and to professional instruction was anyone’s guess. It didn’t take long to get an answer. Kevin Goldstein, then of BP, tweeted in the winter/spring of 2010-11 that Taijuan Walker was blowing everyone away in instructs, touching 98 and flashing a good curveball. Expectations were thus raised for the 2011 season, when the teenager hit Clinton. Goldstein covered his debut there against Cubs prospect Hayden Simpson, and prospect hounds like me started following each start he made in the Midwest League. The results were eye-opening, as Walker was able to generate strikeouts and grounders against much more advanced hitters. The following year, he skipped over the problematic California League (and High Desert) and had a solid start for AA Jackson before tiring down the stretch.

Late in 2012, he added a cutter to his arsenal, and he hit Spring Training ready to show it off. It became what many people considered his best pitch, and while it’s never been all that consistent when I’ve seen it in person, it’s a great weapon to pair with his overhand curve. His inconsistency is pretty understandable when you remember that he’s pitching more innings each year, learning a new pitch, changing his curve ball grip a few times, and moving levels. That inconsistency was one reason I thought the M’s would leave him in the minors this season, but ultimately they thought they’d seen enough when he put a few bad outings behind him and tossed a gem in what may be his final minor league game. In a few years, he’d gone from impossibly raw project to a worthy sidekick to Danny Hultzen to one of the best pitching prospects in all of baseball, and tonight he’ll hit the majors ahead of Paxton/Hultzen. His family will be there in Houston tonight, and most M’s fans know exactly who he is and why he matters.

Thanks to the paper transaction of moving Erasmo Ramirez to the minors (the MiLB season ends and rosters expand before he’s scheduled to start again), the M’s were also able to bring up Abe Almonte, the OF out of the Yankees system the M’s got for DFA’d reliever Shawn Kelley. Almonte’s had a brilliant season for Tacoma, and for a month or so has essentially BEEN the Rainiers offense. As an older corner OF with some injury history, he was a non-prospect when the M’s got him – he was essentially a faster Xavier Avery – but he’s put himself on the map by flashing a bit more power than you’d think and by consistently hitting line drives against some good pitchers. This is a huge break for Almonte, and it’s a move that makes sense for the M’s – they get an extra OF for the weekend, and while he’s taking a 40-man spot now too, the M’s aren’t in the position where they absolutely have to keep him. The M’s are probably looking at replacing say, Carlos Peguero’s spot with Almonte’s in any event. Almonte isn’t up here just to watch and soak up a big leaguer’s per diem – he’ll start tonight, playing RF. He’s a switch hitter, and while some like him there, he’s not a natural CF. He’s had great stolen base numbers, but he’s not a true burner – just a guy with a good first step.

Opposing the new-look M’s is Brad Peacock, the over-the-top righty who beat the M’s back in April. It’s been a rough campaign for Peacock, who spent a rough campaign in the A’s minor league system before coming over in the Jed Lowrie deal. His FIP’s at 6 for the year, and that earned him a demotion in June. He was excellent in the PCL, and he’s been much better since his return to the AL in early August, with four decent starts and 25 Ks in 25 innings. It’s not been missed bats that have hurt him, though, it’s home runs. As a fly-baller with extreme vertical movement on his 93mph fastball, this seems like it’s going to be a perennial problem, but he’s running a HR/9 over 2 for the year, and he’s given up 5 HRs in his 4 post-call-up starts. It’s not like he’s “fixed” that problem. Peacock’s also struggled against lefties this year, though that’s not a problem he’d dealt with in the minors. Like Brandon Maurer, it may be that Peacock’s change was perfectly serviceable in the minors, but not ready for prime time. Or, he may just have had rotten luck. We’ll see with tonight’s lefty-heavy line-up.

1: Miller, SS
2: Franklin, 2B
3: Seager, 3B
4: Morales, DH
5: Ibanez, LF
6: Smoak, 1B
7: Ackley, CF
8: Almonte, RF
9: Blanco, C
SP: Taijuan Walker

It’s odd when you follow someone’s journey so closely and he makes his debut. *I’m* nervous. Can’t imagine what this is like for Walker. The whole following-his-every-move thing makes me think back to 2005, as Jeff did in his post. Back in 2003-4-5, many of us USSM readers came here to read Dave, JMB and DMZ recap each of Felix’s starts – at Everett, then in Inland Empire, and finally in Tacoma. Due to injuries and his low profile early in his career, there was nothing like that for Michael Pineda, and while Danny Hultzen started strong, that bizarre hiccup in AAA in 2012 stopped the momentum/wishcasting.

As one of Wlad Balentien’s biggest backers when he was coming through the M’s system, his jaw-dropping season in Japan has been pretty cool to follow. And if you thought there was a chance I wouldn’t link to this recap of it on LL, well, what’s that? You knew I would? Yeah, good call. Miss you, Wladdy.

The newly eliminated Tacoma Rainiers have a rejiggered roster with Taijuan Walker in the bigs, so Forrest Snow makes a spot start tonight. It’s been a weird year and a half for the local product, but he’s been lights out this month. Hopefully he can get back to where he was at the beginning of 2012, following a great Arizona Fall League stint. James Jones is up from AA to help replace Abe Almonte, Nick Hill will take Snow’s spot in the bullpen and Xavier Avery will join the team as well.

Comments

36 Responses to “Game 134, Taijuan Walker at Astros”

  1. Westside guy on August 30th, 2013 2:52 pm

    Why the h*** is IbaƱez starting over Saunders at this point in time, ever?

    Go Tai!!

  2. marc w on August 30th, 2013 3:04 pm

    Feel like I should clarify the line about Almonte’s speed. He’s fast, he’s an above average runner. But he’s not a true 70-80 grade speedster. His sb and SB/CS numbers may imply more, but he’s not in the Hamilton/Campana category. That’s not a big slam on him; he’s quick, but I think his top line speed is a bit oversold. But his pop and arm strength were undersold, so hey, goooo Abe Almonte.

  3. _David_ on August 30th, 2013 3:11 pm

    About Almonte being a “faster Xavier Avery…” Wasn’t Avery a top recruited running back out of high school with 4.4 40-yard speed? Perhaps he has bulked up, but it seems weird that Almonte could be faster and yet “not a true burner.”

  4. LefebvreBelebvre on August 30th, 2013 4:01 pm

    Would love to see Romero called up — anyone know if this will happen this season?

  5. Cresswell on August 30th, 2013 5:10 pm

    As excited about seeing Almonte as Walker …

    I just don’t see how one or two starts at the end of a season is bad for TW. If you’re good enough, you’re old enough, and while you don’t over-work a guy, 10-12 innings won’t kills his arm.

  6. WTF_Ms on August 30th, 2013 5:43 pm

    I hope Walker does well despite a horrible catcher. Not a big fan of Blanco.

  7. Woodcutta on August 30th, 2013 5:58 pm

    Stupid Ibanez. There goes the perfect game.

  8. Section329 on August 30th, 2013 5:59 pm

    Welcome to great Mariner defense, Walker.

  9. scraps on August 30th, 2013 6:05 pm

    he skipped over the problematic California League (and High Desert)

    Have the Mariners contemplated skipping High Desert for all the very young promising pitchers? (I know, you have to throw somebody….)

  10. The_Waco_Kid on August 30th, 2013 6:14 pm

    What’s with that guy crowing like a rooster? WTF?

  11. Slats on August 30th, 2013 6:21 pm

    Almonte has wheels!

  12. Slats on August 30th, 2013 6:52 pm

    Ackley!

  13. The_Waco_Kid on August 30th, 2013 6:55 pm

    Clutch hitting!

  14. Slats on August 30th, 2013 7:03 pm

    What a catch!

  15. Section329 on August 30th, 2013 7:04 pm

    Wow, I can’t believe he caught that!

  16. SonOfZavaras on August 30th, 2013 7:05 pm

    My faith in Ackley as an outfielder grows every game.

  17. SonOfZavaras on August 30th, 2013 7:09 pm

    It’s not just that catch, either. Ackley’s jumps on balls have been looking a lot more fluid to me the last 3 games or so.

    You guys think we have our centerfielder? Probably too early to tell. But I’m seeing promising signs.

  18. MissouriMariner on August 30th, 2013 7:18 pm

    Was there a reason why they pulled Walker after 70 pitches? Was he starting to tire?

  19. Section329 on August 30th, 2013 7:20 pm

    He is near his innings limit for the year, MM

  20. MissouriMariner on August 30th, 2013 7:21 pm

    So are they thinking that if they pull him after 5, they can get an additional start or is he that close?

  21. MissouriMariner on August 30th, 2013 7:21 pm

    It doesn’t matter I was just curious…

  22. MissouriMariner on August 30th, 2013 7:24 pm

    Nothing really matters with this M’s team…LOL

  23. SonOfZavaras on August 30th, 2013 7:25 pm

    He’s pretty close to it- the wind I heard was that he would pitch 170 innings and that’s it this year.

    That might be the thinking, that they can squeeze another start from him.

    If I’m right, he’s around 150 IP for the year, I have to check for the precise count.

    EDIT: 146.1 IP. If handled carefully, he can get 3-4 more starts.

  24. NODO Dweller on August 30th, 2013 7:30 pm

    He was at 141.1 prior to tonight. As of a month ago he wasn’t on a hard limit – http://blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners/2013/07/30/26874/

  25. Slats on August 30th, 2013 7:42 pm

    Ackley triple – the man is on fire.

  26. Slats on August 30th, 2013 7:44 pm

    Almonte’s first hit.

  27. killeverything on August 30th, 2013 7:57 pm

    I’m at a single A game right now, how did Taijun look against what is essentially another AAA team?

  28. Section329 on August 30th, 2013 8:08 pm

    Looked great. they pulled him after 5 innings at70 pitches. Almonte got his first hit, 2 RBIs.

  29. SonOfZavaras on August 30th, 2013 8:32 pm

    Dustin Ackley is hitting .260 and some change as of right now.

    Seriously, did any of us imagine that possible after May of this season?

  30. scraps on August 30th, 2013 8:35 pm

    God, I hope Ackley is finally beginning to be there….

  31. casey on August 30th, 2013 8:53 pm

    didn’t see the game but just caught the Ackley catch in deep center on highlights – he ran a mile to get there and then must have slid 10 feet on his knees to get to it. Little unorthodox but what an amazing play.

  32. Westside guy on August 30th, 2013 9:34 pm

    I didn’t see the game, but looking at the box score – quite frankly, Ackley may be needed at second base.

  33. scraps on August 30th, 2013 10:41 pm

    Yeah, I was thinking that for some time.

  34. Woodcutta on August 31st, 2013 12:33 am

    So was that episode 1 of…

    Walker, Seattle Mariner

  35. NV M's fan on August 31st, 2013 1:03 pm

    It seems like they already skip High Desert for higher ceiling pitchers – too bad for those who live close enough to see a few of those games.

  36. zeebfan on August 31st, 2013 6:43 pm

    I think Franklin was trying to catch the runner at the plate and got ahead of himself. It’s a high stress play but step 1 is “catch the ball”.

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