Prospect Notebook: Taijuan Walker Showing Consistency In 2013

Taijuan Walker

Taijuan Walker (Photo by Danny Parker)

He hasn’t had that one dominating start that makes everyone stop and take notice, but Mariners righthander Taijuan Walker’s consistency this season has been just as impressive as putting together one double-digit strikeout game. The 20-year-old held Double-A Tennessee to two runs (one earned) in seven innings. He allowed four hits and one walk while striking out six.

Walker has worked at least five innings in all of his eight starts. He’s given up more than one earned run only twice this year, which helps explain his excellent 2.09 ERA. When he went 7-10, 4.69 last year at Jackson, scouts were still impressed, but they wanted to see more consistency from the young righthander. Walker is answering those questions the best way he can in 2013.

Tony Sanchez, c, Pirates: Tony Sanchez’s career hasn’t exactly developed as expected. Drafted fourth overall in the 2009 draft because he agreed to a below-slot deal, Sanchez was thought to be an excellent defensive catcher whose bat would be enough to let him work as a big league regular. The defense hasn’t always been as good as expected, as Sanchez has struggled at times with “Mackey Sasser disease” of throwing the ball back to the pitcher accurately and he’s struggled to slow down running games (he’s thrown out 22 percent of basestealers this year). And the bat has at times been less than expected as well.

But in his second try at Triple-A Indianapolis, Sanchez has put together his best stretch at the plate in years. He came a triple short of hitting for the cycle on Tuesday, as he hit his third home run of the season raising his averages to .294/.400/.518. There can be some legitimate concerns about how much of this is some significant improvement by Sanchez and how much of it is better luck on balls he puts in play (his BABIP this year is .361 compared to .263 in Indianapolis last year), but it is an encouraging sign for the soon-to-be 25-year-old (his birthday is on Monday). Sanchez is still the best catching prospect in the Pirates’ system and he could be battling to be Russ Martin’s backup by next year.

Jesse Winker, of, Reds: Winker’s 2013 season started off as a disaster. Two weeks into the season, he was hitting .139. For a slow outfielder whose bat is going to have to carry him to the big leagues, it was not exactly a great first impression for low Class A Dayton fans. In the 24 games since, he’s quickly changed some minds. Since that lowpoint, Winker has hit .372 with seven doubles and four home runs and nearly as many walks (13) as strikeouts (16). He kept it up with a 2-for-4 day with a double and home run on Tuesday.

Winker is already a full-time left fielder, so there aren’t many other options on the defensive spectrum for him, but his sweet swing does look to be good enough to make it as a bat-first outfielder whose hitting makes up for any concerns defensively.

Alen Hanson, ss, Pirates: At this time last year, Hanson’s gaudy numbers were overshadowing a strong full season debut by Gregory Polanco. A year later, it’s Polanco whose excellent season (.303/.379/.475) is leaving Hanson in the shadows. Hanson’s numbers this year haven’t come close to matching what he did in low Class A West Virginia last year, but he’s still having a solid season, especially when you consider the difficulty of hitting in the high Class A Florida State League.

Hanson went 2-for-4 with a double and his first home run of the season on Tuesday. It raised his averages to .264/.323/.354 for the season. While Hanson hit 16 home runs last year, there are scouts who see him projecting as more of a top-of-the-order hitter, which is what his 2013 production has more resembled. To do that however, he needs to improve his stolen base success rate. After being successful on 65 percent of his stolen base attempts last year, Hanson is now 6-of-10 on steals this season.

Nick Kingham, rhp, Pirates: It’s been a great start to the 2013 season for Kingham, but Tuesday was a night to forget. In what was easily his worst outing of the season, Kingham was pulled after 2/3 of an inning against Clearwater. Six of the eight batters he faced reached base as he gave up three hits, two walks and hit a batter. Four runs scored to raise his ERA for the season by nearly a run to a still respectable 3.79.