With pitching a concern for the 2020 season, could one of Ben Cherington’s first signings as GM be a former top prospect with elite stuff but an injury derailed career?
Among the recently non-tendered players around the league there is one guy that really sticks out as a potential Pittsburgh Pirates free agent target, it’s starting pitcher Taijuan Walker. Once, a very promising prospect in the Mariners organization, Walker was traded to Arizona before the 2017 season in a deal that sent star shortstop Jean Segura and outfielder Mitch Haniger to Seattle, and has been with the organization since.
Performance wise, Walker has shown signs of promise but has never really broke out to be the starting pitcher he was once primed to be.
The main reason the Diamondbacks non-tendered him was because of health reasons. In 2018 and 2019 Walker was sidelined to just four starts due to Tommy John Surgery in ’18 and then a shoulder problem in ’19. Since the trade, the team has only received one healthy season from Walker.
That was in 2017 when he turned in 28 starts and put up a 3.49 ERA along with a K/9 rate of 8.35. Walker looked to be only touching the surface of what he could become in the future. Then the injuries came and here we are, he’s a free agent.
This is sort of a reclamation project but I don’t necessarily want to call it that. See this as more of a chance for the Pirates to unlock potential that hasn’t showed up yet because he has never really “regressed” and has had success at the MLB level, he just needs to get on the mound more and I believe improvements will come.
The stuff is elite, his control isn’t really an issue, as his BB/9 rate for his career is only at 2.81, I think the biggest issue with Taijuan is literally just his health. A 6’4” 235 pound frame with four pitches including an above-average fastball seems like the perfect fit for the Pirates rotation along side Mitch Keller, Joe Musgrove, Chris Archer, and Trevor Williams.
The best part about the idea of bringing in Walker, is that he’s still only 27 years old and has only thrown 528.1 innings, so even though there are health concerns it’s not like he has some serious wear and tear on his arm and he’s past his prime. He’s got everything in place to be a very good starter somewhere and I firmly believe the Pirates should take a flyer on him, it’s worth the risk. Most likely on a one-year “prove it” type deal, it would make sense for both sides.