NEW YORK -- For the second consecutive season, right-handed starting pitcher Taijuan Walker made an appearance in the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game. But Sunday's game at Citi Field was extra special for Walker because his dad, Frank, was in the stands.
"My dad and I never had the best relationship, but he's here now and I've been having a good time with him," Walker says. "He watched the Futures Game on TV last year, but this is the first time he's seen me play professionally in person. I'm really excited he's here."
Walker's mother, Nellie Garcia, was also in the stands, and D-backs prospect Matt Davidson, Walker's teammate at Yucaipa High School in Southern California, joined him on the U.S. Team. They all watched as Walker pitched one scoreless inning with one walk, with his fastball topping out at 97 mph. In 2012, he also tossed a scoreless inning, with one hit and one strikeout.
Ranked the No. 1 prospect in the Mariners organization by MLB.com, Walker made his debut with Triple-A Tacoma in late June. He earned the promotion from Double-A Jackson by tallying 96 strikeouts in 84 innings, posting a 2.46 ERA and holding opponents to a paltry .195 batting average, giving up just 58 hits. His first three starts with the Rainiers have been nothing short of brilliant, with a 2-0 record, 0.56 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 16 innings.
"I wasn't expecting to start that well at a new level with a lot of ex big leaguers, but I'm glad I'm having so much success," Walker says. "The hitters are more patient and foul the ball off a lot more waiting for their pitch, but I'm really just trying to go right after them and make them put the ball in play. I'm trying not to be too fine and working on throwing my off-speed pitches for strikes and getting ahead in counts."
Walker, 20, throws a four-seam fastball that hovers around 98 mph, along with an 82-mph changeup. He also added an 88 to 94-mph cutter this season.
"I wanted the cutter to keep hitters off my fastball," Walker says. "I'm a power pitcher, so hitters want to jump on the fastball early. If I throw the cutter early, they jump on that and I get a lot of ground balls."
The 6-feet-4, 210-pounder was selected by the Mariners in the first round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, and has the build, temperament and stuff to be a big-league pitcher in the near future.
"I like to set my goals high, and right now, my main goal is to make it to the big leagues this year," Walker says. "I think it's possible. I feel like I'm ready right now. I'm just going to keep working hard and wait for the call."
Mariners prospect Ji-Man Choi, known for his bat, also made his Futures Game debut with the World Team in Sunday's game. The 22-year-old first baseman from South Korea began 2013 at Class A Advanced High Desert, where he hit .337 with seven home runs in 48 games for the Mavericks. The lefty hitter was promoted to Double-A Jackson in early June. Through 32 games with the Generals, he is hitting .235 with six home runs and 17 RBIs.
"It's an honor to be here with the best young players in the game," said Choi. "It makes me happy to know people believe I belong with them."
Choi took over at first base in the sixth inning for the World Team and went 0-2 at the plate.
A converted third baseman who has also spent some time behind the plate, Choi has struggled with injuries early in his career. His goal is to stay healthy in 2013.
"I've never played more than 66 games and it is one of my goals to play more than that this year," he says. "When I'm healthy, I know I can do a good job so that's the most important thing for me going forward."
Lindsay Berra is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.