2019 Stats: 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 1 G, 1 IP, 1 SO, 1.000 WHIP
2019 Salary: $5,025,000.00
2020 Status: Arbitration Eligible.
Drafted by the Mariners in 2010, Seattle traded Taijuan Walker in 2016 along with Ketel Marte to the Diamondbacks in exchange for Mitch Haniger, Jean Segura, and Zac Curtis. In 2018 Taijuan Walker pitched in 3 games before he went down with a torn UCL in his throwing arm that required season ending Tommy John Surgery. Walker had been known for his 95 mph fastball up until then. [Insert many months of TJ recovery time here beginning in April 2018.]
Fast forward to April 2019 and Walker is throwing bullpens in his rehab. Manager Torey Lovullo stated in this article that he was not interested in rushing Walker, on account of the Shelby Miller disaster and the lessons learned from hurrying a starter through rehab. “Last year we had really good intentions to do the same with Shelby by slow-playing him,” Lovullo said. “But there came a need where we kind of had to rush him and fast-forward a couple of his outings.
“For that reason, I think we learned a lesson because (Shelby) took a couple steps back where he had some arm fatigue and we don’t want that for Taijuan. We have a strategy and we’re going to stay with it.”
And stick with this new strategy the D-backs did. However, Taijuan Walker faced a setback to his recovery and rehab when he was diagnosed with a sprained shoulder capsule in May. Not that Walker was going to return to the starting rotation in June or July had he not injured his shoulder, the Diamondbacks still felt the sting of this extra 6 weeks of recovery time. [Insert 3 more months of cold-chillin and rehab assignments here.]
Fast forward to September 2019 when Taijuan Walker was announced the Diamondbacks Starter for the final game of the season. I was personally excited to see him return after all the trials and tribulations the almighty had set before Taijuan in 2018 and 2019. Walker rocked the Padres on Sunday September 29th for his one (opening) frame in what would end up being a combined shut-out for the D-backs using 5 pitchers total against the lowly Padres. The Diamondbacks went on to enjoy a walk-off win courtesy of Tim “I am the inside of the plate” Locastro. Game highlights below:
Looking at 2020
Walker is arbitration eligible which means he and the Diamondbacks will exchange salary figures and hopefully come to a agreement for 2020. No such news has been announced though I suspect the D-backs will want to retain Walker’s services. We can speculate below on what his salary could be, but what could Taijuan Walker’s 2020 role will be? I assume he will get looked at heavily in Spring Training as both a starter and also middle/long reliever with the former role not as likely to manifest due to Walker’s history of injury and the teams likeliness of limiting Walkers pitches. However, if Walker can keep healthy and maintain a solid mid 90’s fastball along with his upper 80’s splitter and (less-used) slider, Walker could be looked at as the 8th inning set-up man or possibly even move into a closer role. A look at Daniel Hudson reminds us that any role is possible post Tommy John.