Mariners Can't Rule Out Walker

SEATTLE—Taijuan Walker spent the 2012 season as one of the youngest players in Double-A.

That's what happens when you possess a 98 mph fastball, have serious athletic skills and scouts put you on their "best of" lists.

And on the eve of spring training 2013, Walker, 20, has a chance to be the youngest player in Triple-A. Or perhaps even the youngest in the major leagues.

Walker is likely to join the rest of Double-A Jackson's deep 2012 rotation in Triple-A, and Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said "anyone who comes into big league camp should be realistic. You come in, show your best stuff and give the coaches and front office staff a chance to make some evaluations."

That being said, Zduriencik said Walker shouldn't "rule out being in the big leagues with this team. That wouldn't be fair to him and it would be foolish (on the Mariners' part)."

Walker's future appeared to be elsewhere when several media outlets in January reported that the Mariners had offered him in a trade for Diamondbacks outfielder Justin Upton, who used a no-trade clause in his contract to block the deal.

The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Walker was a multiple-sport star in high school at Yucaipa, Calif., and had a great future in basketball in addition to baseball, where he primarily played shortstop. That ended when the Mariners drafted him as a pitcher with the 43rd overall pick in the 2010 draft.

"He's probably the best athlete in our organization, bar none," Zduriencik said. "He's really made great strides in terms of learning how to pitch."

To this point, Walker's raw numbers (7-10, 4.69 with 118 strikeouts and 50 walks in 127 innings last year) aren't eye-opening. But there were times when he was simply dominating while pitching for the Generals, including a season-opening stretch in which he yielded just four runs and 21 hits over 28 innings. He mixed in a snapping curveball with the fastball, and there were moments when his changeup was surprisingly consistent.

Walker spent much of the winter working out in Arizona perparing for spring training, where he could compete. Does he have a chance to make the Seattle roster? Well, it didn't hurt that Jason Vargas was traded, leaving a core of young pitching talent to compete for the spots behind Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. The Mariners have a flock of young starting pitchers—Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, Brandon Maurer, and Erasmo Ramirez in addition to Walker—so it's not like the Mariners are in a position where they have to rush him.

But he could rush them.


• Righthander D.J. Mitchell, who had been designated for assignment when the Mariners needed roster space, cleared waivers and re-signed with the team. He will likely get an invitation to major league spring training.

• Lefthander Anthony Vasquez has been cleared to start throwing again, less than two months after having emergency brain surgery. Vasquez had five hours of surgery after a ruptured blood vessel and a mass in his brain were discovered. The 26-year-old is expected to report with the minor leaguers in March.