Despite his 2018 Tommy John surgery well in the rear-view mirror, former top prospect Taijuan Walker’s market has been slow to develop. Yes, he only pitched one major league inning in 2019 as a result of his lengthy rehab, but he is healthy now. The Arizona Diamondbacks non-tendered him given that he was due a big payday in his last arbitration-eligible season, but their loss will be someone else’s gain. Could the New York Yankees be interested? Should they?
At this point, it is safe to assume that signing Walker won’t require much of an investment. Common sense indicates that there should be a major league deal waiting for him somewhere, but if there’s not, the Yankees should be willing to bring him as depth.
His potential is considerable - he was, after all, one of the most highly-regarded prospects in the world when he was with the Seattle Mariners - even if the likelihood of him getting back to his 2017 level of performance is not high. That season, Walker pitched 157.1 frames in 28 starts with the D-Backs and had a 3.49 ERA (4.04 FIP.) He registered a 8.4 K/9 and a 3.5 BB/9, and totaled 2.5 fWAR.
Walker’s career ERA is 3.95 in 528.1 innings. He has been a good major leaguer when healthy, and he is only 27-years-old. He is by no means finished.
Walker relies on four pitches, primarily: a four-seam fastball, a splitter, a cutter and a curveball. He is mainly a fastball pitcher. He only threw 10 fastballs in 2019, but they averaged 93.3 mph, which is almost right in line with what he registered in 2017, his best season (93.9 mph). It would be excellent if he surpassed 95 mph, as he did in his debut season and in 2014, but that’s probably unrealistic.
Walker throws his fastball approximately 60 percent of the time. It is his best pitch:
The splitter is his favorite secondary pitch. Here it is in action:
"Why do people still think Taijuan Walker has a ton of upside?"— Pitcher List (@PitcherList) December 26, 2017
This splitter may be part of it. pic.twitter.com/gy0iZXoDZK
He throws a slow curve, at 75 mph, which can mess with hitters’ timing when they are expecting a fastball or a splitter:
The cutter looks like a slider and has a sharp break that makes it very tough on right-handed hitters:
If Walker can regain the feel for his secondary offerings, he can have a great bounceback season. That, and the command of his fastball, will be the key to his future in the bigs. His control isn’t his strongest attribute, but it isn’t a weakness either.
Walker does have a considerable injury history, though. Since becoming a major leaguer in 2013, he has missed time with a right shoulder impingement, right foot tendinitis, blisters, and the dreaded Tommy John surgery.During his latest rehab, he also had to overcome a capsule strain in his right shoulder.
Teams may be scared away by his history of shoulder problems and his Tommy John surgery, but health-wise, he is currently in a good place.
But does he make sense for New York? Rotation depth is not a problem for the Yankees, and that’s a good thing. Gerrit Cole, Luis Severino, James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka and J.A. Happ are the current starters, and Jordan Montgomery will be there if any of them can’t go.
Domingo German will miss the beginning of the season due to his suspension for violating the league’s domestic violence policy, but we should return midseason, and the team has some starting pitching prospects that can perform in the bigs: Deivi Garcia, Mike King, a stretched-out Jonathan Loaisiga, among others.
However, they could take a look at Walker if all it takes is a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training. In that case, he would likely require an opt-out clause at some point in May or June. Let him prove he is healthy and effective and if by that moment there are no openings, let him hit the open market and find an opportunity.
It is unclear if the righty’s market has reached the point in which no major league deals are offered, but if that’s the case, why not take a shot?