Taijuan Walker: ‘I’m pumped to be here’
Top Mariners pitching prospect Taijuan Walker arrived at Minute Maid Park and said “I’m pumped to be here” after playing catch with a football in the outfield prior to Thursday’s series opener with the Astros.
The young right-hander won’t officially be added to the club until shortly before he makes his Major League debut on Friday and can’t be with the team during Thursday’s game since he isn’t on the 25-man roster yet
But Walker, who turned 21 two weeks ago, took in the stadium and visiting clubhouse and got an early lchance to picture what it’s going to feel like for his first big-league start.
“I couldn’t help but smile,” Walker said of his first steps out onto the Minute Maid turf. “It’s a nice park, too. I’m excited to have a big crowd in there and pitch in a big-league stadium. But it’s really going to hit me when I’m the mound tomorrow right before my first pitch.”
Walker was the Mariners’ first selection in the 2010 Draft as a supplemental first-round selection (43rd overall) out of Yucaipa High School in California. And while he’s been on the fast track, that journey has seemed slow at times for the youngster.
“I’ve been working hard, especially this year,” he said. “Getting sent back down to Double-A, I knew I had a lot of stuff to work on. So I’ve been trying to go out there every day with a purpose, with something new to work on. It’s been going good for me. This year has been going well. Just to finally get the call up, it feels like all the hard work I’ve put in is finally paying off.”
The 6-foot-4, 210-pounder is regarded as one of the premier young right-handers in the game, having pitched in the past two All-Star Futures Games and been listed as the Mariners top prospect and the No. 4 overall prospect in baseball by MLB.com.
Walker went 7-10 with a 4.69 ERA in 25 starts last year for Double-A Jackson and was 4-7 with a 2.46 ERA in 14 starts for Jackson this season before getting promoted to Triple-A Tacoma, where he went 5-3 with a 3.61 ERA in 11 games.
In 141 1/3 innings this season, Walker has 160 strikeouts and 57 walks with a 1.196 WHIP. He was the youngest player in the Pacific Coast League this year and will be the fifth-youngest player in Mariners history to make his debut as a starting pitcher at 21 years and 17 days.
Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik has set about a 160-inning limit for Walker this season, which means he’ll likely only start about three games with Seattle before being shut down. But he’s not worrying about that right now.
“I’m just going to go out there and take it day by day, one start at a time,” he said. “Whenever they decide to shut me down, they will. But as of right now, I’m going to prepare like I’m going to pitch the rest of the season.”
When Walker found out he was getting promoted on Wednesday, he immediately called his mom in California to break the news.
“She’d already found out through Twitter,” Walker said with a grin. “She’s always on Twitter, really active. So it wasn’t much of a surprise when I called her, but it was still exciting. We face-timed and my brother and sister were there. I got on the phone and they just started screaming. It was awesome.”
Walker said his mom, dad and lots of family members are flying to Houston to be in attendance.
The only younger Mariners starters in club history have been Felix Hernandez, who debuted at 19 in 2005, and a trio of 20-year-olds in Mike Hampton (1993), Gil Meche (1999) and Bill Wilkinson (1985).