The MLB draft was today, and with their first pick, the Mariners selected RHP high schooler Taijaun Walker. Due to signing Chone Figgins, the Mariners didn’t have a first round pick and selected Walker with the #43 overall. I hadn’t followed the draft buildup too closely this year since the M’s didn’t have a high pick, but there’s a good chance I wouldn’t have known about Walker if I had.
He’s an extremely athletic pitcher out of California, who throws in the low- to mid-90s currently. His off-speed stuff and command are spotty at best currently. He’s 6′ 5″ 200 lbs and apparently a basketball star. He spent most of his junior year at shortstop but wasn’t really a prospect there. He showed flashes of big potential at times this year, which is why he was drafted, but wasn’t consistent enough to go higher or even really to be ranked near the top 43 players by most. Lookout Landing has a better write-up with some compiled scouting reports here. Larry Stone also has a bit at the Times, with surely more to come.
A lot of peope commenting on the local blogs are unhappy with this pick, and I won’t say they’re wrong, or that it’s a great pick. I personally have no idea if Walker is any good or if he’ll ever do anything. Chances are he won’t. But the chances that he’ll never reach the majors are not much higher than they would be for most guys they could have taken at that spot. It sounds like they went for a potentially high-level arm who, if he makes it, could be a top of the rotation starter a ways down the road. That would fill a huge need in the organization. The chances are greater that he fails or ends up in the bullpen or something.
I do have much more faith in the Mariners scouting department to make this pick than just about any one writing on a Mariner blog. There are certainly some very knowledgeable writers around, and Jason Churchill at Prospect Insider does a lot of work for ESPN, so he’s something of an exception. Most of the rest that will weigh in on this pick have seen some video of Walker at best, and at worst have read some scouting reports. Again, that doesn’t necessarily make them wrong. It could turn out to be a bad pick. Many preferred other players they knew more about, and that’s understandable. But really, very few people know anything about Taijuan Walker, so there’s not much to do except hope the Mariners saw something special in him and can develop that.
Rounds 2-30 are tomorrow, with the 31-50 on Wednesday. It’s not as much fun to follow as the other sports’ drafts, but there are a lot of players and any number of them could be Mariners in the next few years. We’ll try to at least direct you to some reviewers who know a little more and give some names to watch. The Mariners need impact help everywhere, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see them keep taking chances in a fairly weak draft.