SP3: RHP Taijuan Walker
Based on Stearns’ offseason history, the Brewers are bound to add at least one starting pitcher to the rotation before pitchers and catchers report early next year. Should that happen again, there’s one pitcher who seems to keep popping up on fans’ wish lists.
Once a top 10 prospect in all of baseball according to MLB.com, Taijuan Walker is coming off a solid season in which he compiled a 2.70 ERA and 1.163 WHIP over 11 starts. Those outings came for two different ball clubs in 2020.
Walker was originally signed as a free agent by the Seattle Mariners for the 2020 season. That happened to be the same team who drafted him in the first round back in 2010 before trading him to the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2016.
He would put up a 4.00 ERA over five starts with the Mariners to start 2020 before being traded to the Toronto Blue Jays just before the trade deadline. He got even better from there, giving up just four earned runs in six starts with the Jays to end the year.
The fact that Walker was able to pitch an entire 2020 season was encouraging based on his recent history. Tommy John surgery two years ago wiped out nearly his entire 2018 and 2019 seasons.
Walker didn’t necessarily light up the major Statcast metrics in 2020, finishing in the lower half of the league in many of them. That said, he was at least average or better in limiting hard contact with his hard hit rate (32.9%) finishing in the 74th percentile, average exit velocity (88.4 mph) finishing in the 50th, and barrel rate (7.2%) finishing in the 48th.
Walker is still just just 28, which could be why FanGraphs still has him projected for a contract worth around $9MM in average annual value even though he barely pitched in two of the last three years.
Statcast concerns and injury history, though, could potentially bring the price down a bit if teams decide to go with a sure thing and Walker sits around on the market for a while. In this perfect world, that exactly what happens and Walker slots in as Milwaukee’s No. 3 starter.