The past few months have been very interesting for Seattle Mariners pitching prospect Taijuan Walker. Between trade rumors connecting him to the Tampa Bay Rays in a possible David Price deal, and the unexpected loss of his No. 27 uniform to newly signed first baseman/outfielder Corey Hart, his future in Seattle has been anything but secure.
However, that seems to be changing now as the season approaches, with new Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon even suggesting a spot in Seattle's opening day rotation is Walker's to lose.
McClendon declared Friday that the team's top prospect is expected to be part of the Mariners' Opening Day roster.
"I'd be very disappointed if he's not [in the rotation]," he said.
Earlier this week the 21-year-old right-hander was named the No. 6 prospect in baseball by MLB.com. He got his feet wet towards the end of the 2013 season, going 1-0 with a 3.60 ERA in three starts. It's a small sample size, but it's experience and a taste of life in the big leagues. Once the special players get that taste, their hunger only grows.
"It was a long season," he told MLB.com. "I definitely got tired. But I think those three starts in the big leagues definitely gave me a boost of energy. Now I know what to expect for the coming season.
"I'm going to Spring Training to compete. Just prepare, go out there and have fun. ... I'm going out there with more confidence. I know what to expect from big league hitters, know what to expect in the clubhouse with media and stuff like that."
The Mariners have a strong 1-2 punch with Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma in their rotation, but the problem is they're the only two players locked in with spring training less than a month away. That leaves a slew of candidates, including Walker, Erasmo Ramirez, James Paxton, Brandon Maurer, Blake Beavan and Hector Noesi, to battle it out for three positions. There's still time to add a veteran like Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana to the mix as well, but as things currently stand the dynamic Walker has a clear path to Safeco Field.
Of course, that can always change with a disappointing spring training performance. Assuming it doesn't, the most interesting question for Seattle heading into the season will be how they plan on using Walker. An innings limit would almost certainly be in place, but where that number is set will be a big decision.
For now, though, it looks like Walker's future is definitely in Seattle, and his time is right around the corner.
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