The Seattle Mariners had their annual FanFest celebration this past weekend, and a lot of the top talent from throughout the organization was on hand to take questions from fans and sign autographs.
One of the team's top prospects -- 19-year-old right-hander Taijuan Walker -- took some time to answer a few questions for SeattleClubhouse about his breakout 2011 year in Clinton and what he is looking forward to as he prepares to head to big league Spring Training in 2012.
SeattleClubhouse: I appreciate you taking the time before you head out to greet the fans at FanFest here with me, Taijuan.
Taijuan Walker: No problem at all, I'm happy to do it.
SC: As everyone constantly says, you are a very good athlete and you thrived in multiple sports early on in high school before focusing solely on baseball, and specifically pitching, as a senior. What made you decide to ultimately give up the basketball court for the pitching mound and concentrate on your baseball career?
TW: Once I started having a lot of scouts come watch me and talk to me, they told me that they saw me having a long, successful baseball career. Basketball was always more of a hobby anyways, more to just keep me active. I always liked baseball best and since I was pretty good at it, I figured I'd stick with it.
SC: Your former high school teammate, Arizona Diamondbacks 3B prospect Matt Davidson, was drafted a year prior to your draft year. What advice did Matt give you about the pro game or about the entire draft process leading up to that time?
TW: We kind of both did our own thing in high school so we really didn't talk much about it back then, but we talk a little bit here and there now, but not a lot about giving advice to one another.
SC: Being that you are still very young, and still really learning the game of baseball and the art of pitching, how pleased are you with the results you've had thus far?
TW: I'm very happy. Obviously I still have a lot of room to grow, but I feel that I've come a long way since my senior year in high school. I'm really starting to learn how to pitch now. Starting to learn more about the game, learning sequences and tendencies of hitters. I'm pretty happy with myself, but I feel that I can always do better.
SC: What lessons did you learn about yourself or about the pro game during your first full big league season in 2011 that are going to help you as you progress in your career?
TW: I learned that I need and want to outwork everyone, and just always give it my all every time I'm out there. I just want to stay focused all the time. I have a goal and I want to just keep working on it all the time. If I have a bad game, I can't get down, just keep working and keep moving forward.
SC: Do you have any specific areas of focus on your game heading into 2012?
TW: Yes, I've been working on my change-up a lot. People have been telling me that the change-up is going to be a really big weapon for me, so I've just been working and working and working on it as much as I can. Hopefully once we get to Spring Training it will be good enough that I'm comfortable enough to throw it in any count. I've been working on tightening up my curveball, too, but I've really been focusing on my straight change.
SC: How about your goals for this season?
TW: My ultimate goal is to make the big leagues, so I'd love to make it to the big league club at some point in 2012. From the day-to-day pitching side of things, I just want to keep the ball down, keep my walks down and just always go out there and compete the best I can.
SC: Being a California kid, already being young for your level, but also being very talented and mature beyond your years on the mound, your club assignment for the upcoming season is an interesting little subplot for you. Are you hoping to get the chance to play in the thin air of High Desert closer to home or would you be happier if you went straight to Double-A ball against tougher competition?
TW: It doesn't really matter to me where I start. Obviously my family would love to have me out in California, but wherever they send me I will definitely be ready to play.
SC: As we wrap up, tell me how happy are you to have a big league invite to Spring Training?
TW: I'm very happy and very honored. I called my mom right after I got the call and we were all excited. I'm glad I get to go with the big league club and hang out with all of the big league guys like Felix Hernandez and Jason Vargas, I feel like I can learn a lot from them, so I'm very excited.
SC: Excellent. Well, I wish you all the best, Taijuan.
TW: Thank you.