Heading into this season, Fantasy owners as well as fans of the Mariners and Mets had big expectations for Taijuan Walker and Travis d'Arnaud. Both had been mainstays on top-prospect lists over the last few years, and we were all excited to see what each would do in their respective rookie seasons.
Unfortunately, it's been quite a mess early on. Walker hasn't seen any time with the Mariners after suffering a shoulder injury in spring training. While he was activated from the disabled list a few weeks ago, the team immediately optioned him to Triple-A Tacoma to continue to prepare for his 2014 debut with the Mariners.
d'Arnaud has had the opposite problem. He had his health over the first six weeks of the season before missing most of the second half of May with a concussion, but he just wasn't any good, hitting .196/.268/.304 before being placed on the disabled list. It was more of the same when he returned, going 3 for 26 before getting demoted.
If this were a sports movie, this would be the point at the end of the second act where it looks like these players are a lost cause before rallying to prove the doubters wrong. Both Walker and d'Arnaud are set to become redemption stories over the second half of the season.
Walker has slowly rounded into form at Tacoma, culminating in a complete-game shutout Tuesday in which he surrendered just four hits and a walk while striking out eight batters. With the Mariners competitive in the AL West this season and considering the right moves to boost the team's playoff chances, they've run out of time to hold back one of the five best pitchers in the organization.
The Mariners seem to know this as well, as starter Erasmo Ramirez was demoted Wednesday, with the team choosing to bring up a reliever in his stead. Ramirez was scheduled to pitch Monday against the Astros, and while the Mariners have yet to name a starter for the game, I'd put better than 50 percent odds on Walker taking the hill.
Walker is still available in a surprising number of leagues, considering he entered the season as arguably the best pitching prospect in baseball. I just scooped him up in a competitive roto league, and he only has 72 percent ownership in CBSSports.com leagues. If available, he's a must-add. If already on a roster, it's worth checking in with his owner to see what it would take to bring him aboard. I expect the cost to be prohibitive -- at least, it will be if anyone comes asking me for Walker in my league.
d'Arnaud turned his season around quickly upon reaching the favorable offensive environment of Triple-A Las Vegas. He racked up six home runs and 16 RBI in 15 games with the 51s while posting a .436/.475/.909 line in 55 at-bats. The hot streak earned him a trip back to New York Tuesday, and he immediately swatted a three-run home run in his first game back. One game does not a Fantasy star make, but it's certainly an encouraging sign for a guy that looked like he'd have trouble hitting a whiffleball earlier this season.
While d'Arnaud doesn't have quite the elite upside of Walker, he's still a guy that hit .311/.371/.542 with 21 home runs in 424 at-bats with Double-A New Hampshire during his age-22 season in 2011. One year later, he posted a .333/.380/.595 line with 16 home runs in 279 at-bats with Triple-A Las Vegas. His talent is such that he should click offensively at some point in the major leagues, and if that comes in the second half, we could be looking at a top-10 Fantasy catcher over the remainder of the season. With an ownership level still under 30 percent, he offers a high level of availability as well as a high Fantasy upside. You can't ask for much more than that from a potential second-half impact player.