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Athleticism attracts Seattle to choose Walker

Athleticism attracts Seattle to choose Walker

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ARLINGTON -- The Mariners went into the first day of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft on Monday prepared for just about anything.

Draft Central

The organization's scouts had scoured the country looking for potential future Major League players, but with the 43rd overall selection, the "best athlete" available seemed the best way to go.

And so, when it was the Mariners' turn to get involved in the annual restocking of the Minor League system -- almost 2 1/2 hours after the Draft started -- they selected a two-sport star athlete from California in 6-foot-4 right-handed pitcher Taijuan Walker from Yucaipa High School.

Walker was his high school team's best pitcher and a top-notch basketball player, averaging 21 points and 15 rebounds as a forward during his senior season.

The 17-year-old went 10-4 with a 1.77 ERA as a senior, striking out 93 batters in 67 1/3 innings, pitching four complete games in 14 starts. He led Yucaipa to the CIF Southern Section Division 2 championship game. He allowed just six extra-base hits but no home runs this season. In his final 10 games, he went 8-1 with a 1.22 ERA with 59 strikeouts.

"You take the best guy available," said Tom McNamara, the Mariners' amateur scouting director, of Walker, who will be available to the Seattle media during a conference call on Tuesday at 10 a.m. PT. "I don't want to sound corny, but we spent two weeks working on that board. He was the next guy. We put a lot of work in there and we were excited about him being there for us."

The scouting report on Walker indicates that he has a power arm, reaching 95 mph at times, but he seems more efficient and has better control when he keeps his fastball in the 93-mph range.

"There is a lot of upside," McNamara added. "I've been around a lot of good baseball people with scouting experience, and it's been drilled into my head about athletic pitchers. We were real happy. I'm starting to relax. It was a stressful last three hours. I'm looking forward to going outside, getting some fresh air and shaking hands with my guys. Everyone in that room was pretty excited."

Seattle's only choice during the first day of the three-day Draft was a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds -- a compensation selection for losing third baseman Adrian Beltre to the Red Sox via free agency.

The Mariners, who improved 24 games in the win column last season and would have selected 18th in the first round of the First-Year Player Draft, lost the pick to the Angels by signing free-agent infielder Chone Figgins to a four-year, $36 million contract.

General manager Jack Zduriencik, who took a hands-on approach to the Draft last year when the Mariners had the No. 2 overall selection and saw several of the top prospects, including Dustin Ackley, did not see Walker.

"I think what you have here is a tall, lanky, athletic pitcher with a power arm and power breaking ball," Zduriencik said. "When you can get an athletic pitcher and guy everyone says has upside, a guy who touches 95 mph with a good breaking ball, all he needs to do is get into the organization, be developed right and stay healthy."

The scouting report further states that Walker's fastball has "good life" and shown an "above-average curve in the past, but it has been below average this spring, without the bite it had last summer."

Walker discarded the curve and went more to his slider this season, but it needs a lot of work.

The scouting summary said: "Walker has been a little bit of an enigma this spring after a very strong summer and fall in 2009. He'll show glimpses of the electric stuff that created a buzz back then, but struggled a bit to find a level of consistency.

"He can still crank up the heat on his fastball, but the breaking ball that looked so promising has largely deserted him. An inconsistent delivery has affected his command, though he still will show the ability to dominate. Depending on when a team saw him might impact his Draft status, though someone is likely to take a chance on his raw stuff, athletic ability and projectable frame.

All that being said, the Mariners believe Walker could develop in a potential near-the-top-of-the-rotation starter, according to McNamara.

"We've done our homework on Taijuan. We've seen him from the beginning of last summer at various showcases in Southern California. This spring, I saw him pitch in a game at San Bernardino's [California League] Minor League stadium and he was very impressive."

The Mariners' primary scout was John Ramey, and his representative is Larry Reynolds, the brother of former Mariners second baseman Harold Reynolds.

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"content":["first-year_player_draft" ] }
{"content":["first-year_player_draft" ] }
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