Free-agent righty Taijuan Walker is one of the more intriguing options on the open market. The former top prospect is still just 27 years old, and in his last full season back in 2017, he tossed 157 1/3 innings of 3.49 ERA ball with 8.4 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 0.97 HR/9 and a 48.9 percent ground-ball rate. Tommy John surgery and a strained shoulder capsule have limited him to 14 innings across the past two seasons, however, creating a good bit of uncertainty surrounding the talented but (recently) injury-plagued right-hander.
To that end, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale tweets that Walker threw for about 20 scouts earlier today, hoping to bolster his chances of landing a Major League contract as opposed to a minor league deal and a non-roster invite. (Presumably, several clubs would be interested in offering him the latter.) Walker’s fastball sat in the 85-88mph range, per Nightengale, which is a notable departure both from his 94 mph career average and the 93.3 mph he averaged in his lone inning of the 2019 season (which came in Arizona’s final game of the year).
That lack of velocity perhaps sheds some light on why Walker has yet to secure a big league deal this winter. Other injury bounceback candidates like Alex Wood and Jimmy Nelson have cashed in on big league guarantees with the Dodgers, after all, and both are older than Walker. Elsewhere, the Giants paid a combined $13MM to rebound candidates Kevin Gausman and Drew Smyly.
One February bullpen session certainly doesn’t mean that Walker won’t regain some life on his fastball with continued workouts and the benefit of a Spring Training regimen. But at least for contending clubs, some trepidation about guaranteeing a roster spot is understandable. A rebuilding club — particularly one like the Orioles or Pirates, who’ve both cut payroll this winter — would make for a rather logical pairing with Walker, though. To this point, he’s been linked to the Mariners and the Twins, although the presence of nearly two dozen scouts at his showcase suggests that a far broader number of teams are considering him.