Signing with Cards an 'easy decision' for Walker

June 24th, 2020

ST. LOUIS -- Nothing about this year has been normal, but the Cardinals wanted to give their first-round MLB Draft pick as close to their usual routine as possible.

The Cardinals agreed to terms with Jordan Walker, the 21st overall pick in this year’s Draft, the club announced on a Zoom call with media Tuesday. Walker and his family visited St. Louis, and Walker spent Tuesday morning conducting his physical. According to MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis, Walker received a $2.9 million bonus.

Usually, the Cardinals provide their top Draft pick with a taste of baseball in St. Louis. Surrounded by his family and the player-development staff, he would get the chance to sign his first pro contract, then take batting practice with the team, tour Busch Stadium and take in a game in a packed ballpark. With no games yet, Busch Stadium being mostly empty and social-distancing guidelines in place, much of that wasn’t possible for Walker.

Instead, Walker and his parents met with some Cardinals front-office members, including president of baseball operations John Mozeliak and director of scouting Randy Flores, toured the Cards Hall of Fame and planned on walking around Busch Stadium after the Zoom call introduced him to local media.

Masks and social distancing were involved, but Walker was still able to be welcomed into the Cardinals organization.

“It’s been great,” Walker said on Zoom with his Cardinals hat and No. 20 jersey on. “I’m ready to play. Ready to be a Cardinal.”

A third baseman who played at Decatur (Ga.) High School, Walker established himself as the top corner-infield prospect in the 2020 high school class. At 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, he has power potential and joins Nolan Gorman, the Cardinals’ No. 2 prospect, in the growing group of third basemen in the Cards' system. Walker was committed to Duke University -- and said to be one of the best recruits the Blue Devils have ever seen -- but he felt he was able to start his professional career now.

“I want to go to the best place where I can develop my skill, and I feel like playing for the Cardinals, that’s the best place,” Walker said. “When everything was done and done, it was a good decision, and easy decision, to go to the Cardinals, because I want to become the best baseball player I can be and I feel like they provide all the necessary objects to do that.”

The slot value for the pick was $3,132,300. The Cardinals have finalized deals with four of their seven picks, and all of them have been under slot, creating an additional $700,000 in bonus flexibility to complete deals with their other three picks. Flores said that the Cards are “optimistic” that those deals will be finalized soon.

Giving Walker a taste of Cardinals baseball and the history of the organization was almost as important as inking the deal.

“As I met the parents and Jordan earlier, I explicitly discussed that because as you can imagine, there’s empathy with someone that’s experiencing what someone like Jordan has gone through,” Mozeliak said. “We’ve all sat through and met first rounders that have come through here over the past 25 years. They usually get to experience Busch Stadium, and then they go and join a Minor League team.

“What we’re trying to focus on is make today something special for him, something that he will remember because there’s a lot of things that he didn’t get to experience. What Flo and his staff have really tried to do is make this as normal as possible. Even though it’s one day, we wanted it to be special.”

On Wednesday, Walker and his parents will explore St. Louis. Walker’s mom, Katrina, earned her master’s degree in business economics from Washington University in St. Louis, and Jordan said she wants to show him some of the city’s attractions. Then the 18-year-old plans to celebrate with family and friends back in Georgia. What comes next, he doesn’t know.

Walker's goal is to stay ready for whatever happens, and the Cardinals hope they get to a point where they can hold some sort of Minor League camp either this summer or fall for their young players.

“We don’t know what that looks like yet, but it’s something that we’re thinking about in the back of our minds,” Mozeliak said. “We don’t want this year to be a lost year.”