Name: Taylor Widener
DOB: 10/23/1994 (Age 24)
Acquired: 2018 Trade with NYY and DET
Most Notable Tool: Mid 90s Fastball
Season Stats: 26 G (25 GS), 5-8, 2.75 ERA, 137 1⁄3 IP, 176/43 K/BB, 12 HR, 1.03 WHIP, 35.6% GB rate for AA Jackson
2018 Season Summary: Widener picked a perfect time to break out as he dominated the Southern League from start to end. Widener saw massive improvements in command with a jump in strikeout rate from 26% to 32% while simultaneously improving his walk rate from 10% to 8%. On top of that, he continued to prove to be a difficult pitcher to square up with another low BABIP number of .275, suggesting a possible BABIP suppression skill as a result of a high infield fly ball rate. Widener enjoyed another healthy season in the minors, further putting to bed questions about his overall durability.
Tools: Fastball 60/60, Slider 55/60, Change-Up 45/50, Command 50/55
Widener is a power pitcher and dominates with fastballs at the top of the strike zone to induce whiffs and pop-ups. As a result of being effective at the top of the zone, Widener saw a career best 32% K rate along with a 29% IFFB rate (pop-ups/fly balls). The change-up has developed into a usable 3rd pitch, although the fastball and slider combination will be his bread and butter. The command has improved with a K-BB% jumping from a decent 16% rate to an elite 24% rate.
Upside: Widener projects as a middle of the rotation pitcher with a small chance of being a #1/2 starter. The lack of a 3rd above average or better pitch makes me hesitant to call him a potential top of the rotation candidate, but I cannot deny the possibility considering his AA numbers. Either way, I expect him to be a fixture of the Dbacks rotation for the foreseeable future, especially coming from a trade where the Dbacks lost quite a bit of youth and depth that proved to be their undoing in 2018.
Risk: I’d be more worried about his height if he didn’t have a blow you away type fastball, although nowadays we see shorter pitchers succeeding in MLB. With quite a lengthy injury history in college, there is always the small concern about him handling a full MLB workload. Both risks are relatively minor overall given what he was able to do in AA last year and has been healthy for his entire pro career.
Likely 2019 Assignment: Widener is close to being MLB-ready, he just needs a bit of polish in a challenging environment such as Reno. Depending on the situation, Widener could see MLB action sooner rather than later. If he’s dominating in Reno, then they should consider using him in a relief role at the MLB level if he cannot find a spot in the rotation in the second half of the season as a way to get him experience and prevent too big a sizable innings jump from the 137 total in 2018. In the pecking order, I have Widener second on the priority list after Taylor Clarke, who is already on the 40-man roster, and Jon Duplantier, who is a bit behind Widener due to the starts he missed. If anything, expect him to be a Dbacks uniform before the season is over.
ETA: 2019 Season