Taijuan Walker - SP, SEA
He's getting a late start to his season due to a shoulder injury that bothered him in spring training, but Walker has been in Seattle's plans for this year all along and it appears that he's close to taking a spot in the Mariners rotation -- hopefully for good.
Ranked by everyone among the top handful of pitching prospects in the game, Walker debuted late last year for the M's as a 21-year-old and performed well in his brief audition, posting a 3.60 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 12/4 K/BB ratio in 15 innings spread across three starts. This came after a dominant season in the minors in which the righty registered a 2.93 ERA in 25 starts between Double-A and Triple-A while fanning 160 hitters in 141 innings.
Walker was widely expected to grab a spot in the M's rotation this spring but shoulder soreness sidelined him through much of March, forcing him to open the season in the minors on a rehab stint. He has pitched exceedingly well in one start at Single-A and one start at Double-A, allowing just one earned run in 9 1/3 innings while striking out 17 (!).
It was believed that Walker's latest rehab outing, in which he fanned 10 across five scoreless innings for Class-AA Jackson, would be his last before joining the big-league club, but it appears that the Mariners want him to make one final start at Triple-A before making the jump. That gives fantasy owners a little more time to snag him before his name really starts buzzing.
Since he hasn't yet reached the majors, Walker remains available in about half of all Yahoo! leagues and around 75 percent of ESPN leagues. That won't be the case for long. He's one of the game's most talented young hurlers and if he gets off to a fast start upon joining Seattle (which seems likely given his utter domination of minor-league hitters) he'll quickly be rostered in every league, deep or shallow.
If Walker is still available in your league, grab him now. Soon you probably won't have the chance.
Tanner Roark - SP, WAS
Roark made a great first impression last year in his debut for the Nationals. After an outstanding season in Triple-A, where the right-hander went 9-3 with a 3.15 ERA and 0.99 WHIP while splitting time between the rotation and bullpen, Roark was called up to the Nats in August where he thrived in a similar swingman role.
In 14 appearances (five starts) for Washington, the 26-year-old went 7-1 with a 1.51 ERA and 40/11 K/BB over 53 innings. The solid debut put him in line to earn a spot in the rotation this year, and Roark did just that by taking care of business in spring training.
He doesn't figure to rack up tons of strikeouts judging by his unspectacular stuff and his average K-rates through the minors, but Roark lives on good control and keeping the ball down. Last year during his MLB debut he induced grounders on 50 percent of balls in play, yielding just 11 walks and one home run while facing 204 batters.
His early results this year haven't been quite as promising, as Roark has a 5.91 ERA through his first two starts, but that's mostly due to a clunker in Atlanta his last time out -- a tough match-up to be sure. He was quality in his first start at Citi Field against the Mets, and he hasn't yet had a chance to pitch at his home park, where last season he held a 0.47 ERA and held opposing hitters to a minuscule 383 OPS.
Given his past success, it seems likely that Roark will hold his own as a member of the Nationals rotation. The only question is how long he'll be able to hang on to a spot. Newly acquired Doug Fister will bump someone when he returns from a lat injury next month, and barring an injury to Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann or Gio Gonzalez, that's going to be either Roark or fellow youngster Taylor Jordan.
Jordan and Roark offer relatively similar skill sets, and it might come down to which one is on a better run when Fister's ready, but with all things being equal I figure the Nats would opt to keep Roark since Jordan is younger and hasn't yet pitched in Triple-A.