Diamondbacks Taijuan Walker: 2018 Fantasy Sleeper

Taijuan Walker pitched well in his first season with the Diamondbacks. As he improved his peripherals, he is a sleeper heading into the 2018 season.

The Arizona Diamondbacks made a blockbuster trade last offseason, sending Mitch Haniger and Jean Segura to Seattle for Ketel Marte and Taijuan Walker. The latter had two average seasons as a starting pitcher for the Mariners. In his first season with the Diamondbacks, he improved in most aspects of his game and should be a sleeper pick in 2018.

In his two full seasons with the Mariners, Walker averaged a 4.41 ERA, 1.214 WHIP, 8.2 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9 in 54 starts. Last season, Walker was a 22nd round pick in ESPN standard leagues. He finished as the 57th best starting pitcher on the Player Rater.

Walker made 28 starts and pitched 157.1 innings. He finished with a 3.49 ERA, 1.328 WHIP, 8.4 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9. He also had a 9-9 record and 12 quality starts. Walker had some ups and downs in 2017 but looked good overall.

He saw a 1.0 increase in his walk rate and 0.09 increase in his WHIP. As a result, his swinging strike, first-pitch strike and swing rates all decreased. But those are the only negatives about his numbers.

His ERA dropped by 0.8 runs, his strikeouts rate went up 0.4, he allowed 10 fewer home runs and his FIP dropped by 0.95 points. Walker also increased his ground ball rate while his fly ball rate dropped five percent. That resulted in fewer home runs, hits and earned runs between 2016 and 2017.

I also think the move from the AL to NL West helped his performance. The Dodgers, Giants and Padres finished in the bottom 10 in batting average. The latter two were in the bottom three in slugging percentage as well. Astros, A’s and Rangers were in the top 15 in comparison.

Walker moving to Arizona also helped him stay healthy. All five Mariners starting pitchers landed on the DL three times last season. I’m exaggerating but you get the point. The injury bug did not make its way down to Arizona.

With a full season expected in 2018, Arizona’s No. 3 pitcher should have another great season worth drafting. In 32 starts, I project a 4.12 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 11-12 record, 172 strikeouts and 63 walks over 188 innings.

Walker is still just 25 years old. He showed great improvement in some major categories last season. He is one of my late draft sleeper pitchers. Expect to draft him in Round 22 again this season.