The Seattle Mariners are off to a hot start in spring training, and the pitching has been quite sharp thus far. Obviously enthusiasm has to be tempered at this stage of the game as the Mariners are only 6-1, and the spring training record means absolutely nothing once opening day arrives.
There are obviously a number of position battles that will unfold during the spring, but fans will be very curious to see the performances of young pitchers such as Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen, James Paxton and Brandon Maurer. Through the end of February, none of these pitchers have thrown more than three innings but they do have matching 0.00 ERAs.
Granted, many Mariners pitchers have a 0.00 ERA right now (via MLB.com).
Greg Johns of MLB.com had this to say via Twitter after the Mariners beat the Cleveland Indians 5-1 on February 27:
Again, it is early, but could the Mariners see fit to award prized prospects Taijuan Walker or Danny Hultzen a coveted roster spot when the team breaks camp? Or, is it likely that Seattle has no intention of rushing these pitchers regardless of how well they perform in the spring?
Johns notes, “That's a tandem that could be imposing for many years to come” (via MLB.com). When will those many years begin?
There is always a concern about rushing young pitchers. If they are put into tough situations too early, they may lose confidence and struggle to adjust if they go back to the minors and then return to the big club. In addition, there is always the worry that a young pitcher will overthrow due to a youthful sense of invincibility and end up doing damage to their prized arms.
It is hard not to get excited about what these pitchers might do. When two guys combine for six strikeouts in four innings (via MLB.com), they are going to generate a little buzz. Obviously they have a long way to go.
Walker is more highly regarded than Hultzen at this point, simply due to the raw talent and sense that Walker may have more “upside.” Nothing is guaranteed in baseball, but Walker is projected as having the talent to be a future ace.
That said, Hultzen may end up making the team first, simply because he is older and arguably more ready to handle the Major League level. Walker has a blazing fastball, but he is still working on his repertoire of pitches. The Mariners are not going to rush a 20-year-old pitcher.
The rotation for the Mariners is far from set. Realistically, Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Joe Saunders can be safely penciled into the first three slots. Beyond that, there is a lot of competition.
Blake Beavan. Erasmo Ramirez. Jon Garland. Jeremy Bonderman. Hector Noesi.
Why not Walker or Hultzen?
Noesi’s first start was very poor and he has an ERA of 21.60 in two appearances. Bonderman has pitched an inning and “leads” the team with a 27.00 ERA. Obviously those ERAs will likely drop throughout the spring, but auditions can be short in Peoria.
Conventional wisdom suggests that Walker, Hultzen, Paxton, Maurer and other young throwers will begin the year in Double-A or Triple-A. Then again, Michael Pineda made the rotation out of spring training last year after demonstrating all month that he belonged.
Perhaps Taijuan Walker and Danny Hultzen will continue to show that they deserve to be one of the 25 who fly to Seattle.