LOS ANGELES — Righthanded pitcher Taijuan Walker of Yucaipa (Calif.) High, one of the best athletes in the 2010 prep draft class, made his first start of the season on the afternoon of March 9.
Yucaipa traveled almost 100 miles to take on Palos Verdes (Calif.) High, located in an affluent neighborhood about 14 miles south of L.A. International airport. PV's baseball field is situated on a plateau that offers a sweeping view of the Pacific Ocean. Commented one scout: "You don't get this kind of view at most ballparks!"
On Tuesday afternoon, the PV ballpark felt more like Candlestick Park. The 50 scouts on hand were blasted by a cold and harsh wind that rattled teeth, nerves and the wooden bleachers.
Walker was as chilly as the breeze. Battling control and mechanical problems, he departed in the third inning in a game won by PV, 15-4. Despite his struggles, Walker's raw stuff was excellent. His fastball ranged from 89-91 mph, peaking at 92. Walker has touched 93-94 in showcase events. The 6-foot-5, 200-pound righty adds a 76 mph curve and an 82 mph slider.
In Walker's defense, it should be noted that he is still in transition from the basketball season to the baseball season. A superlative forward, Walker averaged 21 points and 15 rebounds in his recently-concluded basketball season. His dunking ability is phenomenal, according to sources.
In his build and delivery, Walker is reminiscent of Ferguson Jenkins. A baseball appears to be the size of a marble in Walker's huge hands, and his colossal, size 16 feet leave impressions that will be studied by archaeologists thousands of years from now. A near-perfect physical specimen, Walker's projectable frame features broad shoulders which taper to a narrow waist and long legs.
An American League crosschecker summed up Walker's performance: "He is a tremendous athlete, but not the most polished guy out there. He does have the ability to throw hard and spin the curve ball."
The scout added that Walker's mechanics are "a little rough—he does not get his lower half into his delivery. He didn't spot the fastball well and he can get erratic." Walker is the proverbial project, and the scout added that Walker's development is "all part of a process. He may wind up as a closer, but you have to give him every chance to be a starter."
Walker's first outing of the 2010 season was rocky, but his terrific potential can't be denied. Fresh off the basketball court in 2007, Marlins OF prospect Mike Stanton started slowly in his final year of high school baseball. By May, Stanton had found a groove and was hitting tape-measure home runs.
Not a single scout will be shocked to see Taijuan Walker make a comparable improvement by mid to late May.