The Twins added veteran starter Jhoulys Chacin on a minor league deal over the weekend but might not be through adding experienced arms to their spring rotation mix. Phil Miller of the Minneapolis Star Tribune writes that the club could yet add right-hander Taijuan Walker to the fray; Miller’s colleague, La Velle E. Neal III, also mentioned Minnesota’s interest in the righty in a previous notebook column.
Walker, 27, once rated as one of the game’s 15 best overall prospects and looked to be putting things together following a trade from Seattle to Arizona. In 2017, his age-24 campaign, Walker tossed 157 1/3 frames of 3.49 ERA ball in Arizona, averaging 8.4 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 0.97 HR/9 and a 48.9 percent ground-ball rate.
However, the former No. 43 overall draft pick (Mariners, 2010) wound up undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2018, and a sprained shoulder capsule the following May prolonged his absence while creating additional health concerns. Walker was only able to make it back to a big league mound for one inning in 2019, when he served as an opener in the Diamondbacks’ final game of the year. Arizona non-tendered him in December rather than pay a third-time arbitration salary that would’ve likely matched last year’s $5.025MM rate.
In all, Walker has totaled just 14 innings over the past two seasons thanks to that torn elbow ligament and sprained shoulder capsule, which have understandably combined to limit his earning power. Neal implied that the Twins have hoped to land Walker on a non-roster deal, though the lack of an agreement suggests that he’s perhaps holding out for a guaranteed contract.
It’s easy enough to see Walker’s appeal for the Twins, whose 2020 rotation is currently the weakest area on the club. Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi will be back to lead the staff, and Minnesota added right-hander Homer Bailey on the heels of his healthiest season since 2013. Michael Pineda, too, will return in 2020 — but not until he finishes up a reduced 60-game suspension for taking a banned substance. That punishment will keep him shelved until mid-May. Lefty Rich Hill, signed the same day as Bailey, will be out until at least June after undergoing primary repair surgery on his left elbow this winter.
The Twins currently appear likely to rely on right-hander Randy Dobnak (1.59 ERA, 23-to-5 K/BB ratio in 28 1/3 innings in 2019) and left-hander Devin Smeltzer (3.86 ERA, 38-to-12 K/BB in 49 innings) to round out their rotation early in the season. The weekend addition of Chacin gives them another option, should he look more like his 2018 self than his 2019 self this spring. Aussie southpaw Lewis Thorpe and top prospect Brusdar Graterol could also be in the mix.
Walker, though, would add an intriguing wild card to that rotation competition if the two sides are ultimately able to strike up a deal. He has five-plus year of service time under his belt, meaning there are no future arbitration years of which to gain control, but he’s looked like one of the market’s more intriguing short-term dice rolls since the day he was non-tendered two months ago.