Taijuan Walker Rumors

Quick Hits: Walker, Mets, Padres

Monday's game between the Astros and the Mariners will feature Jarred Cosart and Taijuan Walker, two top 100 prospects who made their debuts this year, MLB.com's Jason Mastrodonato reports. Before the season, Cosart was ranked the No. 73 prospect in baseball by MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo and No. 86 by ESPN's Keith Law. Mayo ranked Walker baseball's No. 4 prospect, and Law had Walker at No. 9. The game will also be Walker's first at Safeco Field, and his last of 2013. Here are more notes from around the Majors.

  • The Mets could pursue a free agent shortstop in the coming offseason, Andy Martino of New York Daily News writes. Stephen Drew might be a possibility, and Yunel Escobar could be as well if the Rays decline his option, Martino reports. It seems doubtful that Escobar will be on the free agent market, but Drew, who is making $9.5MM this season, might make sense. (Other free agent options include Jhonny Peralta and Clint Barmes; you can find the full list of free agents here.) Martino quotes a team official calling Ruben Tejada a "very disappointing kid," but it's still possible that Tejada could be the Mets' starting shortstop next year as well.
  • Padres manager Bud Black says had at least some interest in veteran pitcher Roy Oswalt before Oswalt signed with the Rockies, reports MLB.com's Corey Brock (on Twitter). Oswalt has struggled through four starts for Colorado this season. 
  • The difference between Xander Bogaerts and Derek Jeter mirrors the differences between the Red Sox and Yankees franchises in general, Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes. Bogaerts, a dynamic young player, allowed the Sox to ship off Jose Iglesias (and three young players) in order to get Jake Peavy. Meanwhile, Jeter is declining and injury-prone. And more broadly, Sherman says, the Sox appear to have a well-stocked roster in place not only for 2013, but also for next year, whereas the Yankees' will feature a number of albatross contracts.

Prospect Rumor Roundup: All-Prospect All-Star Team

Where did the year go?

The 2013 minor league regular season is in the books, and the lucky few are currently competing in the playoffs. We've seen a lot of exciting moments during the year. We've also seen a lot of prospects significantly improve their values. To celebrate the best of the best, MLBTR is celebrating the 2013 All-Prospect All-Star Team, which features the top players in the minors at each position. Given the depth at some positions — as well as the lack there of at others — this was no easy task.

The players were chosen by considering a mixture of future potential and statistical results.

Catcher: Austin Hedges, Padres — Because of his abilities on both defense and offense, San Diego's catcher of the future narrowly edged out the Yankees' Gary Sanchez. His abilities on both sides of the ball also impressed his employers, according to Padres Assistant General Manager of Player Personnel Chad MacDonald. "He has the tools and skill set to impact both sides of the ball… and we are excited about his future with the San Diego Padres," MacDonald said.

Hedges will probably never be the strongest offensive catcher in the league but he won't embarrass himself, either. Behind the plate, he's perhaps the best defensive catcher in the minors if you take everything into consideration: arm, receiving, blocking, game calling and leadership.

First Base: Dan Vogelbach, Cubs — This position was the hardest one to find a deserving candidate. The Astros' Jonathan Singleton missed the beginning of the year due to a suspension and then struggled with his consistency. The Angels' C.J. Cron failed to consistently tap into his raw power. Vogelbach, just 20, performed well at two A-ball levels and showed the ability to hit for average and power while also getting on-base at a solid clip. 

Brandon Hyde, the Cubs' director of player development, said Vogelbach's successes came from hard work. "It was an impressive season with raw power to all fields," he said. "He has an advanced approach for his age, and he controls the strike zone."

Second Base: Rougned Odor, Rangers — Second base was another tough position to settle on the winner. The Angels' Taylor Lindsey, Cardinals' Kolten Wong, and Twins' Eddie Rosario also received serious consideration before the award went to Odor. The Rangers' prospect hit more than .300 between High-A and Double-A with a strong OPS and 32 stolen bases — all at the age of 19. The left-handed hitter also popped 58 extra base hits, including 41 doubles. With all the middle infield depth in Texas, Odor could make things very interesting — and crowded — in short order.

Third Base: Miguel Sano, Twins — Sano was the runaway winner at third base, although the Cubs' Kris Bryant could give him a run for his money in a year's time (assuming both prospects are still in the minors). The Dominican native launched 35 home runs and produced a .610 slugging percentage. However, he didn't hit for a great average after his promotion from High-A to Double-A, and he combined to strike out 142 times in 123 games, so there are some holes in his game that need to be addressed.   

Shortstop: Javier Baez, Cubs — There were five players that were considered in this slot, including Xander Bogaerts (Red Sox), Francisco Lindor (Indians), Addison Russell (Athletics) and Carlos Correa (Astros). Baez, though, came out ahead when considering his outstanding statistical results and the fact that he has a chance to be as good as any other player on the list. Just 20, he finished the year in Double-A and hit a combined 37 home runs with 20 stolen bases and a .920 OPS.

Hyde was impressed with Baez's ability to make adjustments after being promoted to Double-A. "He hit in the middle of the order on a prospect-laden team. He made huge strides defensively and with his plate discipline," Hyde said. "He has a unique combination of raw power, speed and off-the-charts instincts, especially for a 20 year old in Double-A."

Outfielder: George Springer, Astros — Springer, 23, had an eye-popping season while playing at both Double-A and Triple-A. He narrowly missed becoming a 40-40 player (HR-SB) with 37 homers and 45 steals while playing at the highest levels of the minors. Springer's approach produces massive strikeout numbers, but he showed improvements in that area as the year progressed.

The prospect impressed the club's front office not only with his play but also his attitude, according to Quinton McCracken, the Astros director of player development. "George is an exceptional five-tool talent, and even better person. He has great makeup, work ethic, off-the-chart intangibles coupled with incredible athleticism… He's a very special player," he said.

Outfielder: Byron Buxton, Twins — Buxton was the biggest no-brainer on this list. Just 19 and in his first full pro season, the five-tool outfielder played at two A-ball levels while hitting more than .330 and producing double digits in doubles, triples and homers. He also got on base at a .424 clip, stole 55 bases in 74 tries and played above-average defense in centerfield. The Twins have one of the best minor league systems in all of baseball and could be a massive threat in two to three seasons.

Outfielder: Gregory Polanco, Pirates — Polanco edged out a few other players because, at a very young age, he showed a five-tool approach and had an impact in numerous areas. The 21-year-old outfielder showed that he may one day develop into a 20-20 or perhaps even a 30-30 player. After beginning the year in A-ball, he ended the season in Triple-A. 

Pirates Director of Minor League Operations Larry Broadway said the most impressive thing about Polanco's growth has been his maturity. "He has fit into each clubhouse and added value to the culture of each club that he's been on," Broadway explained. "He continues to approach the game with a learner's mentality and is always looking to find a way to get better. He's not afraid to make a mistake in the process, which has allowed him to progress well in all areas of his game."

Starting Pitcher: Archie Bradley, Diamondbacks — Bradley and Dylan Bundy grew up playing baseball together, but the former passed the latter on top prospect lists after the Orioles' prospect blew out his elbow. Just 20 years old, Bradley spent the majority of the year in Double-A and finished the season with a combined ERA of 1.84 and 162 strikeouts in 152 innings of work. He also allowed just 115 hits. 

Starting Pitcher: Taijuan Walker, Mariners — Utilizing a strong fastball and excellent breaking ball, Walker, who just turned 21 on Aug. 13, made older competition look foolish as he produced outstanding numbers in Double-A and Triple-A before earning his MLB promotion. The right-hander struck out 160 batters in 141 1/3 innings while allowing just 112 hits.

Chris Gwynn, the Mariners director of player development, said Walker is oozing talent but he's also an extremely hard worker. "Going into the offseason last year he realized there were some things he needed to work on to get better," Gwynn said, listing fastball command (down in the zone, to both sides of the plate) and improved secondary pitches as two of those things. "Coming into this season he was a man on a mission… and had a dominant season in Double-A and Triple-A didn't phase him. It shows he wants it really bad."

Starting Pitcher: Noah Syndergaard, MetsJameson Taillon (Pirates), Kevin Gausman (Orioles) and Robert Stephenson (Reds) also received consideration as the one of the top pitchers in the minors but the final spot went to the Mets' prospect. Syndergaard showed a rare combination of power (his fastball can tickle triple digits) and control when he struck out 133 batters in 117 2/3 innings and issued 28 free passes. Just 20, the Texas native finished the year with 11 starts at the Double-A level. 

Reliever: Steve Geltz, Rays — It's hard to find a worthy reliever because many of the best MLB bullpen aces originally come from the starting ranks. Geltz, though, is still only 25 years old and he was the hardest pitcher to hit in Triple-A (minimum 50 innings) by allowing a batting-average-against of just .152. That mark was actually the seventh lowest in the entire minor leagues. His strikeout percentage (31.3 percent) was good for 12th in Triple-A ball. Not bad for a player that went undrafted and signed with the Los Angeles Angels as a free agent in 2008.


Mariners To Promote Taijuan Walker

The Mariners announced that they will promote right-hander Taijuan Walker in time to make his major league debut on Friday against the Astros.  Walker, 21, is the M's undisputed top pitching prospect.

This year, Walker was rated as the third-best prospect in the nation by Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com, No. 9 by Keith Law of ESPN.com, and the 18th best prospect by Baseball America,  BA's 2013 handbook, which put Walker as second only to Mike Zunino in the M's system, describes the youngster as a "premium athlete with an ideal pitcher's frame."  Walker projects as a potential ace and his potential showed through 2012, even though his Double-A stats didn't quite support that.

In 25 starts at the Double-A and Triple-A level this season, Walker posted a 2.93 ERA with 10.2 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9.  His late August promotion means that the M's can keep him under club control through 2019 without triggering an additional trip through arbitration.



Justin Upton Rejects Trade To Mariners

10:50pm: Taijuan Walker would have been the fourth player in the trade package to the D'Backs, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports (via Twitter).  Walker, a 20-year-old right-hander, was ranked as the 20th-best prospect in the sport by Baseball America prior to the 2012 season, though he struggled pitching at the Double-A level last year.

7:40pm: The Mariners offered a four-player package to the D'Backs, according to Scott Miller of CBS Sports.  Arizona would have received Nick Franklin, Charlie Furbush, Stephen Pryor and one of Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen or James Paxton.

6:06 pm: Diamondbacks outfielder Justin Upton invoked his limited no-trade clause to reject an agreed-upon deal between the D'Backs and Mariners that would have sent Upton to Seattle, reports Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports.  The M's were prepared to give up "a package of young talent" in the trade, a return that Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic has heard was "substantial" (Twitter link).

Though several teams have been linked to Upton over the last two seasons, the Mariners seem to be the first to propose a deal that has gotten the D'Backs to agree to move the 25-year-old outfielder.  As Rosenthal/Morosi note, the trade rejection could be gamesmanship by either Upton or the D'Backs — Upton could be trying to control where he ends up, or the Snakes are sending the message that if Upton wants to leave Arizona, his only option is Seattle.  The Mariners, Blue Jays, Red Sox and Cubs are the four teams on Upton's current no-trade list, according to ESPN's Jerry Crasnick (Twitter link).

The Braves and Rangers are still pursuing Upton, and we've heard in recent weeks that such teams as the Mets, Padres, and Orioles have also been in engaged with trade talks with the Diamondbacks.


NL Central Notes: Jones, Pirates, Parra, Hart

Let's round up the latest items out of the NL Central, which, like the rest of baseball's divisions, now features just five teams….


Some Mariners Players Off-Limits In Trades

Rival teams say the Mariners have made many players untouchable in trades, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports. However, a Seattle official tells Rosenthal the team is “wide open” on possible deals.

The list of untouchable players includes Felix Hernandez, Dustin Ackley, Kyle Seager, and prospects Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen, James Paxton and Nick Franklin, Rosenthal reports. Some executives question whether Ackley and Seager should be off-limits at this stage in their careers.

Mariners such as Jason Vargas, Kevin Millwood, Brandon League, Miguel Olivo and Brendan Ryan could draw interest this summer. GM Jack Zduriencik will be expected to consider trade offers for some veterans given Seattle's 36-51 record.


Taijuan Walker Hopes To Get Started

Ask Taijuan Walker to describe himself and he'll tell you that the Mariners selected a “considerate” young man with their supplementary round selection this year. Ask scouts to describe the 17-year-old they saw throwing mid-90s fastballs and “considerate” will probably not be the first word they use. They’ll tell you about a pitcher with a lively fastball and a promising, but inconsistent curve.

Walker may soon be able to show those pitches off in the Mariners’ system, since he has tentative plans to sit down and discuss a deal with the M’s once he graduates from high school this week.

“I want to get signed,” Walker said on a conference call today.

Walker was a promising hitter in high school and admires Mariners bats like Ichiro and Chone Figgins, but doesn’t mind giving up on hitting to focus on pitching.