Taijuan Walker’s push for a spot in the Mariners’ 2015 rotation resumes Tuesday when he starts for the Surprise Saguaros in their Arizona Fall League opener against the Peoria Javelinas.
The Mariners want Walker, 22, to log 25-30 innings in the Fall League, which likely means at least five starts, after shoulder problems this season limited him to 1201/3 innings between the majors and minors.
Walker closed the season with two strong starts after replacing an injured Roenis Elias in the rotation.
“Obviously, he’s taken a big step forward,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “There’s a lot of work to be done, and I’m sure he’ll continue to get better.”
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Among other things, Walker will likely work to sharpen a change-up that proved increasingly effective late in the season.
“My last two starts, I used it a lot,” he said. “ I’ve got to the point where I can bounce it if I need to; get it over for a strike or keep it down.”
The Fall League bills itself as a finishing school for top prospects and runs through Nov. 15. It consists of six clubs in the Phoenix area, each of which are composed of players from five organizations.
The Saguaros received players from the Mariners, Boston, Cincinnati, San Diego and Texas. The Mariners’ seven players include third baseman D.J. Peterson, who is generally viewed as their top non-pitching prospect.
Peterson, 22, is expected to spend time at first base as a likely prelude to a possible full-time switch in 2015. The Mariners have him on a fast track to the majors but already have an All-Star at third base in Kyle Seager.
“I played a lot of first base in college,” he said, “It wouldn’t be too much of an adjustment. I want to play third, like I’ve said from the time I got drafted. But … there wouldn’t be any adjustment. I’d go right over.”
Peterson batted .297 in 123 games at High-A High Desert and Double-A Jackson while leading the organization with 31 homers and 111 RBIs.
Also playing for the Saguaros:
• Right-handed pitcher Matt Anderson (age 22): had more success after shifting to long-relief duty late in season after returning to High Desert from Jackson; was 6-8 overall with 4.91 ERA in 27 games (20 starts).
Right-handed pitcher Matt Brazis (24): selected as the organization’s reliever of the year after going 4-1 with six saves in 40 games at High Desert and Jackson; had 84 strikeouts in 721/3 innings and a 0.995 WHIP (walks and hits to innings pitched).
• Catcher John Hicks (25): long regarded as a strong catch-and-throw receiver who has gunned down 47 percent of all runners in four pro seasons. His bat perked up this season (.290/.351/.403) in 81 games at Jackson and Tacoma; could get a look in spring for backup job.
• Infielder Patrick Kivlehan (24): A versatile right-handed hitter, he received the organization’s Unsung Hero Award after batting.295 with 20 homers and 103 RBIs in 138 games at High Desert and Jackson.
• Right-handed pitcher Stephen Landazuri (22): has chance to reverse a disappointing year. He struggled to a 5.08 ERA in 15 starts at Jackson after returning in mid-June after seven-week absence because of a strained oblique muscle.
HART A FREE AGENT
Outfielder/first baseman Corey Hart, as expected, chose to become a free agent by declining an outright assignment from the Mariners.
The move came one week after the club designated Hart for assignment in order to clear space on their 40-man roster to reinstate first baseman/designated hitter Jesus Montero from the suspended list.
Various injuries limited Hart, 32, to 68 games this season after he signed a one-year deal $6 million as a free agent in December. He had six homers and 21 RBIs while batting .203.
Barring a new deal with the Mariners, Hart would have become a free agent after the World Series.