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- Taijuan Walker
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By The Sports Xchange August 28, 2013 2:39 PM
SEATTLE -- The Seattle Mariners' decision to designate veteran right-hander Aaron Harang for assignment seemed like a foregone conclusion, but the bigger move involves who will fill his spot in the rotation. Righty Taijuan Walker, a recently turned 21-year-old who has emerged as the organization's top prospect, looks like the most intriguing candidate. But there are obvious risks to rushing Walker too soon. Having turned 21 earlier this month, Walker is pretty young to be making his first major league start and runs the risk of losing confidence if he struggles. He's also being limited to 160 innings on the season and has 142 under his belt. But the Mariners could see this as an opportunity to let Walker get his feet wet before making a serious push for the rotation next spring. Just seeing some major league hitters should help Walker as he heads into the offseason, and it's entirely conceivable that he'll have some immediate success. After making the jump from Double-A to Triple-A in June, all Walker did was go 5-3 with a 3.61 ERA -- with 64 strikeouts in 57 1/3 innings of work. His latest start was a six-inning, one-run performance that included nine strikeouts. Walker's next scheduled start for Triple-A Tacoma is supposed to come Friday, which coincidentally is the same day Harang was in line to be on the mound for the Mariners. Other options include Tacoma righty Blake Beavan, a starter-turned-reliever who is back in a starting role, and righty Brandon Maurer. Neither pitcher, however, would bring anywhere near the interest that Walker could. The Mariners, who fell to the Rangers 4-3 in 10 innings Tuesday, have already tapped the prospect well to generate some local buzz, having promoted catcher Mike Zunino, second baseman Nick Franklin and shortstop Brad Miller this season. But Walker could be the first big-time pitching prospect from a solid group that includes Danny Hultzen and James Paxton. Walker has risen above both of them during the 2013 season, but his age gives reason for the organization to handle him with care. It's looking more and more likely that Walker will be a serious contender for the 2014 Opening Day roster, and perhaps the Mariners want more than just a strong spring training to prove how ready he is. Even if Walker does get the call Friday -- the team's scheduled probable pitcher is "undecided" for that game as of Tuesday night -- he probably won't get too many more opportunities to pitch this season. But if he does get this one, it makes Friday night a whole lot more interesting for Mariners fans. --The Sports Xchange team correspondents contributed to this report.