Jordan Walker got a warm welcome from Cardinals fans in his first at-bat and responded with a sizzling 103-mph line-drive single up the middle off Blue Jays ace Alex Manoah in a wild game that St. Louis wound up losing 10-9 on Thursday.
The 20-year-old third baseman-turned-outfielder went on to go 1-for-5 with an RBI on a fielder’s choice grounder.
Walker won the starting right field job by going 18-for-65 (.277) with 3 homers and 2 steals in 20 spring training games. He did most of his damage early, batting .378 before straining his right shoulder on Feb. 18 and going just 1-for-18 after the injury scare.
Drafted in the first round in 2020 out of Decature High School in Georgia, he made quick work of the minor league by taking just 201 games to reach the majors. He exploded out of the gate in 2021 with a 1.162 OPS in 27 games for Low-A Palm Beach before posting a .831 OPS in 55 games at High-A Peoria, combining for 14 homers and 14 steals.
One look at Walker’s 6-foot-6, 245-pound frame has you thinking massive power hitter, but last season he had just 7 homers to go with his .300 average through July 27. He finished the month with two multi-homer games in his final three July contests and went on to finish the season with a .998 OPS, 19 HR and 22 SB.
The power started to show up even more in the Arizona Fall League, where Walker put up a .286/.367/.558 triple-slash with 5 HR and 3 SB in 21 games.
Going into spring training, it was assumed that Walker would most likely start the in Triple-A, but he started out Grapefruit League play by going 9-for-18 with 3 HR and it quickly became apparent that he could start the season in St. Louis.
So what can we expect from towering slugger in his rookie season? Looking at his ATC projection, Walker is expected to put up an uninspiring line of .254/.313/.400 with 13 HR and 12 SB in 127 games and 523 plate appearances. We’re betting that if Walker gets to more like 600 PAs, it will be with a .260 average, 20 HR and 15 SB.
The worry is that if he slumps, the Cardinals have plenty of options in the outfield they could give more PAs, from Dylan Carlson to Alec Burleson to Juan Yepez to Moises Gomez.
As for the long-term future, Walker has the raw power and plate discipline (21.6 K% and 10.8 BB% in Double-A) to hit for average and power. While he’s young and is still filling out, Walker could be a solid contributor in steals as well. The dream is that Walker will develop into an elite hitter who posts annual .300/.400/.500 triple-slashes with 30 homers and double-digit steals.