8. Taijuan Walker, RHP, Seattle Mariners:
Seattle Mariners fans have a lot to be excited about when it comes to right-handed pitcher Taijuan Walker. The 21-year old from Shreveport, Louisiana made his major league debuted last August where in three starts he posted a 1-0 record and a 3.60 ERA in 15 innings of work. He is a young and raw talent still, but there is no question he has the arm power to be a full-time major league starter.
His four-seam fastball clocks in the mid 90s and he has good command with his pitches. In addition to his speed pitch, he has a curveball and changeup at his disposal and has begun developing a cut fastball, which could ultimately prove to be his most devastating pitch. Additionally, his delivery is fluent and he commands great poise on the pitching mound for such a young age. Standing at 6’ 4” and weighing 210 pounds, Walker gets great power off of his delivery.
With that being said, scouts have acknowledged that Walker still has some flaws to workout in his game. To start, he has problems commanding total control of his fastball, which has a tendency to get a little wild as the game progresses. Additionally, his number of walks per nine innings has risen over the course of his career and there is concern this will be even more evident once he is a full-time player in the majors. According to an assessment made by minorleaguebaseball.com, the biggest adjustment Walker needs to make is fully developing his second and third pitches in order to create an off-speed game to go along with his fastball. But like all young players, this will come with developmental time and game experience.
The Mariners have a solid pitching staff led by Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, who both logged over 200 innings last season to go with ERAs at or below 3.04. Walker will enter spring training looking to lock up the number three starting position and should fit in quite well with the team. He will continue to develop his pitching approach at the major league level and try to help a Mariners team, now led offensively by Robinson Cano, make the playoffs for the first time since 2001.
7. Archie Bradley, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks:
The most hyped pitcher coming into the 2014 season has to be Arizona’s Archie Bradley. The seventh overall pick in the 2011 Major League Baseball Draft, Bradley has been impressive in his short time with the Diamondbacks organization. It is still somewhat of a long shot that Bradley will be called up to the majors this season. If he does get the nod from manager Kirk Gibson then expect Bradley to have a big impact on a young pitching staff that already features Patrick Corbin and Wade Miley.
The 21-year old right hander has over 50 starts in the minors and has compiled an impressive 26-11 record in 290 innings of work with a 2.76 ERA, a 1.23 WHIP, and has closed in on nearly 10 strikeouts per nine innings. This prospect from Muskogee, Oklahoma has drawn comparisons to Tigers Justin Verlander because of his fluent pitching mechanics, which have been described as being very simple and clean. Additionally, Bradley has a large frame that has him measuring in at 6’4” and weighing 225 pounds.
Like Verlander, Bradley’s best pitch is his fastball which clocks in the mid-90’s and has gotten all the way up to 99 mph. Along with an exceptional fastball Bradley’s second pitch, his knuckle curveball, is equally impressive and clocks in the low-80’s with great movement across the plate. Scouts around baseball all say that Bradley is a changeup away from being a full-time major league starter.
The ceiling for Bradley is incredibly high and he has a great chance to be a true number one starter in the majors for years to come. If he can tighten up his game just a little bit more this winter and develop that devastating third pitch, he has a great opportunity of joining the Diamondbacks in the early summer months this year. Arizona fans should be excited about their young pitching staff and the great opportunity they have to lead their team back to championship form for the first time since Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling brought home a World Series Championship back in 2001.
6. Billy Hamilton, OF, Cincinnati Reds:
“Sliding Billy” Hamilton has already had a brief stint in the majors when he debuted with the Reds last September. But it has been Hamilton’s work in the minors that has the city of Cincinnati and baseball fans excited to see more.
The 23-year old centerfielder is renowned for his speed and can effortlessly fly around the bases. He is already drawing comparisons to the great Ricky Henderson after he stole 155 bases for the Pensacola Blue Wahoos in 2012. Baseball purists will remember that Henderson, now a Hall of Famer, set the single-season stolen base record for the majors with 130 back in 1982. Point being, this young man knows how to run and could very possibly challenge the 32 year-old record.
Even more impressive than his single-season numbers in 2012 are Hamilton’s total number of stolen bases while he played in the minors. In 502 games played between low A and AAA, he recorded 395 stolen bases to go with another 13 bags in 13 games with the Reds last year (source MLB.com). But besides being a quick and versatile runner, Hamilton gets on base and has quick hands at the plate. In his short time in the majors he managed to post a BA/OBP/SLG of .368/.429/.474. Now this is only a small sample to choose from and it is likely that over a 162 game season these numbers will considerably drop, but this is all part of the learning curve for a young player and there should still be excitement about his overall potential.
With the departure of Shin-Soo Choo (who signed with the Texas Rangers in December) there is an opening in centerfield that would place Hamilton between Jay Bruce and Ryan Ludwick, which gives the Red’s outfield an interesting mix of power and speed for years to come. Be ready to watch Hamilton frustrate pitchers and catchers with his quickness in 2014.
My top-five major league rookies for the 2014 season will be posted tomorrow.