SEATTLE — Is right-hander Taijuan Walker on the verge of breakout season?
Former Mariners stat cruncher Tony Blengino, who now works for ESPN, points to favorable trends in projecting good times for Walker in assessing six pitchers who last year logged enough innings to qualify for the ERA title for the first time.
Blengino dismisses Walker’s dreadful start last season and contends the real guy is the one who had a 3.62 ERA after May 24. The entire story is behind ESPN’s paywall, but here is a notable excerpt:
"His overall numbers are contaminated by that first stretch," Blengino wrote, "but we can expect much more of the second guy moving forward. Frequency-wise, Walker is a fly ball guy who should develop a popup tendency (56 percentile rank in 2015) to at least some degree moving forward.
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"His high (115) Adjusted Contact Score was due in large part to harder-than-average authority across the board; as Walker learns more how to pitch at the big league level, that should regress toward the league average."
Walker is still just 23. He just seems older because he’s been under the microscope since his selection with the 43rd overall pick in the 2010 draft. He was 11-8 last season — his first full big-league season — with a 4.56 ERA in 29 starts.
There’s more to Blengino’s analysis, but it leads to this conclusion: "It’s reasonable to expect very good things from Walker moving forward."
Blengino’s projections interestingly include slippage for Chicago Cubs right-hander Jake Arrieta, who won the National League’s Cy Young Award.
"As good as he was," Blengino wrote, "there’s a reason Arrieta didn't qualify for an ERA title until age 29. We can’t simply expect 2015 to be his standard moving forward."
Blengino also examines Pittsburgh right-hander Gerrit Cole, New York Mets lefty Jacob deGrom and two Cleveland right-handers: Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar.
Assessments are mixed. It makes for an interesting read.
It’s one of baseball many cliches that all winter-ball performances should be viewed skeptically…but it seems notable that new center fielder Leonys Martin has 15 walks in 22 games for Licey in the Dominican Republic.
Plate discipline typically comes in short supply in the Caribbean leagues, and Martin had just 16 walks last season in 95 games for Texas. So if he is learning to become more selective, that’s a big bonus.
Martin, 27, batted .272 with a .386 on-base percentage for Licey, which was eliminated Tuesday in the Dominican championship series in an 8-4 loss to Escogido. He is expected to take part this weekend in FanFest at Safeco Field.
***First baseman Kyle Petty led the Australian Baseball League with 14 homers and tied for the league lead with 44 RBIs while playing 55 games for Adelaide. His .317 average ranked seventh in the league.
The Mariners selected Petty, 25, in the 23rd round of the 2013 draft. He batted .255 last season with nine homers and 46 RBIs in 96 games at Hi-A Bakersfield.
CANO IN DERBY
Second baseman Robinson Cano will join several other big-league stars on Feb. 3 in a Home Run Derby at the Caribbean World Series in the Dominican Republic.
Cano participated three times in the Home Run Derby at the All-Star Game while playing for the New York Yankees.
He won the 2011 Derby at Chase Field in Phoenix when he set a record for homers in the final round, but he finished last the following year at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City when he failed to put any of his 10 swings over the fence.
Cano also took part in the 2013 Derby at Citi Field in New York but failed to advance past the first round.
Others scheduled to participate in the Dominican derby: Detroit first baseman Miguel Cabrera, Boston designated hitter David Ortiz, former American League Most Valuable Player Vladimir Guerrero and Cuban slugger Alfredo Despaigne.
Cano, 33, underwent surgery Oct. 13 to repair a sports hernia suffered July 29 against Arizona at Safeco Field.
The Mariners have yet to confirm reports of several recent minor-league signings, including first basemen Travis Ishikawa and Gaby Sanchez and lefty reliever Kraig Sitton.
Look for that to change later this week.
The Mariners are holding their annual winter media briefing on Thursday before staging their annual FanFest on Saturday and Sunday. It seems likely the club will release its list of non-roster signings and camp invites in the process.
Expect that list to contain roughly 18 names — general manager Jerry Dipoto said in December that he considers 58 to be the "ideal" number of players in a big-league camp.
"If you get into 64 or 66 or 68 players," he said, "and I’ve been with teams that have done that — you spend a lot of time on the back fields trying to teach an A-ball kid something that can very easily be done in the minor-league camp.
"We don’t need to use our major-league camp to do that. We’ll run a satellite minor-league camp at the same time that we’re running our major-league camp.
"When we need extra guys to come over and play, they’ll come over. But we’ll keep the major-league camp to the high 50s. We’ll call 58 as the target number and get our guys reps. That way when infielders come in, they’re going to play.
"We’d like to bring 27-28 pitchers to camp but make sure that our pitchers get their innings. We might bring guys over to protect ourselves against veterans who don’t require the same workload to prepare for a season."
The Mariners currently have 20 pitchers on their 40-man roster — so Dipoto’s approach leaves room for seven or eight non-roster pitching invites.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners