Taijuan Walker

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Taijuan Emmanuel Walker

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Biographical Information[edit]

Pitcher Taijuan Walker reached the majors in 2013.

With a fastball timed at 95 mph, Walker was 10-4 with a 1.77 ERA as a high school senior, fanning 93 in 67 1/3 innings and allowing no home runs. He also was a basketball star, averaging 21 points and 15 rebounds per game at forward.

Walker was the first pick of the Seattle Mariners in the 2010 amateur draft, chosen with the 43rd overall selection. The choice was compensation for the loss of Adrian Beltre; the club had lost its earlier first-round pick when they signed Chone Figgins as a free agent. He made his pro debut with the AZL Mariners on July 10th of that year against the AZL Royals. He retired all six batters he faced, half on strikeouts, to earn the win. Overall, he went 1-1 in 4 games that summer, giving up just 1 earned run in 7 innings of work.

With the Clinton LumberKings in 2011, Walker went 6-5 with a 2.89 ERA and 113 strikeouts in 18 starts. The following year, he was 7-10 with a 4.69 ERA and 118 strikeouts in 25 starts for the Jackson Generals while being named a Southern League All-Star. He also pitched in the 2012 Futures Game, throwing a scoreless inning of relief. He began 2013 back with Jackson and was promoted to the AAA Tacoma Rainiers in late June. He was called up to the majors in late August and made his debut on August 30th. Making a start against the Houston Astros, he went 5 innings without giving up an earned run and recorded the win. He went a combined 9-10, 2.93 in 25 starts between Jackson and Tacoma, and in Seattle was1-0, 3.60 in 3 starts.

Walker was considered among the top prospects in baseball, ranked #6 by mlb.com for example, as the Mariners headed into spring training in 2014. He was expected to make the team's starting rotation, but ran into health issues with shoulder inflammation, forcing him to miss the start of the year. He made his first major league appearance on June 30th and only pitched three times before rosters expanded in September, when he made 5 appearances. He was 7-4, 4.39 with three different minor league teams, and 2-3, 2.61 with the Mariners. In 2015, he managed to spend a complete season in Seattle, making 29 starts and going 11-8, 4.56. He had trouble going deep into games, logging only 169 2/3 innings, but struck out 147 batters while walking only 40.

The Mariners were expecting big things of Taijuan in 2016, and he got off to a hot start, going 2-0, 1.44 in 4 April starts. It was all downhill from there as he went 0-5 in May, then after a correct month of June, missed all but one game in July, which he lost, because of tendinitis in his right foot. After being rocked for 6 runs in 4 inning in his return on August 6th, the Mariners decided to demote him to AAA in the hope that it would jump start him back into competitive form. He was 4-7, 4.10 at that point. He returned to Seattle on August 23rd and quickly lost his first three starts before recording his first win since June with a 6-3 victory against the Texas Rangers on September 8th. He did even better in his next start on September 13th, as he recorded the first shutout of his career in defeating the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, 8-0, on a three-hitter. He finished the season at 8-11, 4.22 in 25 starts. On November 23rd, he was sent to the Arizona Diamondbacks alongside IF Ketel Marte in return for Jean Segura, Mitch Haniger and Zac Curtis.

He had a solid first season with the Diamondbacks in 2017, going 9-9, 3.49 in 28 starts and striking out 146 batters in 157 1/3 innings. He was a solid number 3 starter behind Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray, and when both pitchers were used when the D-Backs won the Wild Card Game, he got the starting assignment for Game 1 of the Division Series facing the Los Angeles Dodgers on October 6th. He had a rough evening, however, as he gave up a three-run homer to Justin Turner, followed by a single to Cody Bellinger and a double to Yasiel Puig that put a Arizona in a 4-0 hole before he had managed to record a single out. He was replaced by Zack Godley in the 2nd, but his teammates were never able to dig out of the early hole and lost the game, 9-5. It was his only appearance of the postseason as the D-Backs were swept in three games. In 2018, he was 0-0 with an ERA of 3.46 after 3 games when he was diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow necessitating season-ending Tommy John surgery.

He missed all of 2019 recovering from the surgery, but was ready by the start of the 2020 season, by which time he was once again a member of the Mariners, having signed with them as a free agent in February. He made his return to the mound on July 25th, giving up 5 runs in 3 1/3 innings in a 7-2 loss to the Houston Astros. His next start on July 31st went much better however, as he allowed just 1 hit and no runs in 7 innings in defeating the Oakland Athletics, 5-3. He was 2-2, 4.00 after 5 starts when on August 27th, he was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for a player to be named later (minor leaguer Alberto Rodriguez); the Blue Jays had placed three starting pitchers on the injured list in the previous ten days and were desperate for help as they found themselves unexpectedly competing for a postseason slot. His first start for the Jays on August 29th was a beauty as he held the Baltimore Orioles scoreless for 6 innings and earned credit for a 5-0 win. He ended up making 6 appearances for the Jays, all as the starting pitcher, going 2-1 with an excellent ERA of 1.37. His combined record was 4-3, 2.70 in 11 starts, with 50 strikeouts in 53 1/3 innings. He was slated to start Game 3 of the Wild Card Series against the Tampa Bay Rays, but Toronto lost the first two games of the series to be eliminated.

A free agent after the 2020 season, he signed a two-year deal with the New York Mets worth $20 million on February 20, 2021. That first year, he was 7-11, 4.47 in 30 games, 29 of them starts, logging 159 innings and striking out 146 innings. While his numbers were not outstanding, he was still named to the All-Star team for the first time of his career. In 2022, as the Mets won 101 games, he improved to 12-5, 3.49 in 29 starts, even if his peripheral numbers were very similar to those of the previous year. He did not pitch in the postseason however, as the Mets made an unexpected early exit, losing the Wild Card Series to the San Diego Padres in three games. But even had they gone on to the next round, his role was uncertain, given that he had Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom, Chris Bassitt and Carlos Carrasco ahead of him in a tremendously strong starting rotation. Following the season, he became a free agent again and on December 6th, it was announced that he had signed a four-year deal with the Philadelphia Phillies worth $72 million. The Phillies were looking for starting depth after two of their starters the previous season, Zach Eflin and Kyle Gibson, had just left via free agency themselves.

He was a member of the Mexican national team for the 2023 World Baseball Classic, thanks to Mexican ancestry on his mother's side.

His unusual first name is pronounced TIE-wahn.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • NL All-Star (2021)
  • 15 Wins Seasons: 1 (2023)

Further Reading[edit]

  • Paul Casella: "Armed with elite splitter, Walker joins loaded Phils", mlb.com, December 16, 2022. [1]
  • Steve Gilbert: "Excited Walker looking forward to pain-free 2017: New D-backs hurler had offseason surgery on right ankle, which limited him in '16", mlb.com, December 1, 2016. [2]
  • Thomas Harding: "Walker part of formidable Team Mexico rotation: Phillies right-hander proud to represent his family heritage in World Baseball Classic", mlb.com, March 9, 2023. [3]
  • Todd Zolecki: "Phils add Taijuan Walker, near deal with Matt Strahm", mlb.com, December 6, 2022. [4]

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