By BILL SORRELL
Special to The Messenger
JACKSON — Not all of Taijuan Walker’s appearances on the mound have been stand-up performances.
As he fielded a ground ball last season, his feet slipped out from under him and he landed on his backside.
“That was pretty embarrassing,” said Walker, a right-handed pitcher for the Jackson Generals.
This season has been anything but embarrassing. Walker has played in two all-star games. He represented Seattle in the 14th annual Sirius XM Radio All-Star Futures Game Sunday at Kansas City. In June, he was one of eight Generals named a Southern League All-Star.
“It’s a great honor to go out there and have fun with it,” said Walker of playing in an all-star game. “You can’t look into it too much (because) you have to get back to business.”
While this season has had its share of “great experiences,” it’s been a learning one. He is learning to master his favorite pitch, a fastball which has reached 98 mph, and feel more comfortable doing it.
“I think I have a good fastball. That is my strength so I try to use that to my advantage a lot. You’ve got to stay within yourself. You can’t go out there and do too much,” said Walker, 19. “I have confidence and trust in myself and in my pitches.”
Jackson outfielder Joe Dunnigan calls Walker’s pitching “explosive. I’ve had an opportunity to stand in on him and everything out of his hand is so smooth but real quick. Everything is explosive.”
After a senior season at Yucaipa (Calif.) High School where he had a 10-4 record, 1.77 ERA and 93 strikeouts in 67.1 innings, Walker was drafted by Seattle in the first round of the 2010 Major League Baseball Draft. He was the 43rd overall pick.
Prior to the 2012 season, he was rated by Baseball America as the No. 20 prospect and No. 2 in the Mariners’ organization. The magazine named him the top prospect in the Midwest League last year.
At Clinton, Iowa, Walker was 6-5 with a 2.89 ERA and named the Mariners’ 2011 Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
On July 5, Walker got his first win since May 27 with an 11-4 victory over the Mississippi Braves. The win gave Jackson a 51-34 record, a season-high 17 victories over .500. He improved to 5-4 with a 4.50 ERA. He has fanned 71 batters in 70 innings and held batters to a .257 average.
Walker has seen his share of good pitchers, including the eight from Jackson who have advanced to AAA Tacoma this season.
He said that is was “fun” being part of an elite pitching staff that helped the Generals clinch a September playoff spot after winning the North Division first half championship.
“You can sit back and watch them. We are fans here pretty much, too.”
Walker is also a fan of rhythm and blues and hip-hop music. He would play basketball if the Mariners allowed it.
At Yucaipa, he played forward on the Thunderbirds basketball team. His senior year he averaged 21 points, 15.1 rebounds, 2.7 blocks and 2 assists per game. “It helps being athletic,” said Walker (6-4, 210 pounds).
He is exercising patience as he waits for a major league debut.
“You want to get there faster but you block everything else out and focus on baseball,” said Walker. “You have to sit back and wait for your turn. Whenever they are ready, you’ve go to make sure you are ready.”
Published in The Messenger 7.9.12