Updated Feb 26, 2012 - 12:15 pm
Walker making great strides plus highlights from the intersquad game
Two years ago I remember watching Michael Pineda pitch an inning in an intersquad game down here in Peoria where I thought to myself, 'he's young, but it won't be long.' I had the same thoughts today watching Taijuan Walker.
While he isn't quite the imposing figure that Pineda was, seeing his 14-pitch 1-2-3 inning in person made me erase one thing I had seen on his stat sheets and bio in the last year: The number 19.
Walker is just 19 and only started pitching full-time his senior year in high school. I had seen his prospect ranking and didn't doubt his talent for a second. I did, however, believe that because he was so young that he was still years away from being Major League ready. I'm not so sure about that anymore.
I'm not basing this solely on one inning in an intersquad game. Walker made incredible progress last year; progress that surprised even pitching coach Carl Willis, who is a little more familiar with Walker than you might know. Willis was the minor league pitching coordinator for the Mariners when Walker was signed. When he reported to Peoria, Willis was there to watch him.
"The strides he's made with his delivery, it just speaks to how athletic we knew he was," Willis said earlier this week. "Right now at 19-years-old throwing batting practice against a Carlos Guillen, an Ichiro and to hear their comments about the explosiveness of his stuff and how he gets it so easy? It is impressive."
Impressive? I will go ahead and call it crazy. This is a kid who played shortstop primarily until his senior year. Still, the Mariners (Tom McNamara to be specific) were so impressed with his athleticism that they drafted him with the 43th pick in the 2010 draft.
"What you can't see is in the training room," Jack Zduriencik shared with me this morning. "He is doing things in there, jumping, (agility) drills, things that others can't. He is that type of athlete."
And he's making up ground fast according to Willis.
"There are little nuances of the game that he had to learn, but the physical tools and the athleticism, he really has the chance to be special and we really want to make sure that we take care of him to make sure he has the best chance to make that happen."
We don't see 19-year old pitchers in camp very often. Walker doesn't look 19 and doesn't throw like he's 19, but his arm will need to be handled carefully because he just hasn't pitched very much. I would expect him to be limited to about 130 innings this year, but all bets are off after that. I'm jumping an armory of guns here but there is a chance we could see a 20-year old in the rotation next year.
Other highlights from the intersquad game...
On track...Jason Vargas worked 2 1/3 innings and did not surrender a hit. Vargas threw 28 pitches and the goal is to get him and Felix to 100 by the time they leave Arizona for Japan...
Something you don't see every day...To get to his pitch count Vargas had to face an additional batter after the third out of the second inning. When the manager signaled for an extra hitter Miguel Olivo stepped in front of the plate, held up three fingers and yelled "Three outs," to the fielders. Strange. And then down right funny when Munenori Kawasaki at short did the same for the outfielders...
More Munie...Kawasaki is a motormouth constantly yelling encouragement and sometimes other things and everyone seems to enjoy it. He had the entire team laughing when Ichiro stepped to the plate for the first time today. "Come on Ichiro!" Kawasaki yelled. From short. Ichiro promptly struck out...
No disrespect...The ball was not exactly flying out of the park today but Brendan Ryan got one up in the air and it went out. Rather than circling the bases Ryan put his head down, ran to first and then took a right turn into the dugout. He didn't want to disrespect Oliver Perez...
Keep your eye on Peguero...Because you never know what will happen. Carlos Peguero had a beautiful play in right (I am not kidding) tracking and spearing a line drive heading for the corner. He then stepped in against Shawn Kelley and hit a broken bat triple to the wall in right center. The barrel of the bat landed between first and second and the ball at the wall. Crazy stuff. "Only him and Wily Mo Pena can do that. He is strong," said Olivo in the clubhouse.
Pesky...Before the game Chone Figgins said his goal was to drive the pitcher crazy. He accomplished that drawing a nine-pitch walk off Danny Hultzen and another off James Paxton...
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