How Walker's new house is helping him prep for Year 2 in the Majors

March 2nd, 2024

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The house that Cardinals rising star purchased this winter included furniture left behind by the previous owner, so in some ways it still lacks the personal touches one might associate with a first-time buyer.

However, in Walker’s way of thinking, the house he describes as “just plain” is just the way he wants it. There’s a grill to make the turkey burgers he loves for his favorite meal, and he knows his way around his new kitchen well enough to whip up pasta or roast chicken for dinners.

But know this about the 21-year-old Walker’s new, no-frills digs: Buying his first home and becoming one of Jupiter, Fla.’s newest residents was never about pining for independence, flashing his cash or seeking a warm-weather shelter from St. Louis’ often dreary winters. Instead, Walker’s new mortgage was a sign of how serious he was about improving as a player for the Cardinals, and how he planned to attack his offseason in hopes of being better in Year 2 of his MLB career.

Located a few miles from the Cardinals’ complex, Walker’s new offseason home allowed him to spend five days a week working on outfield drills with famed instructor José Oquendo. It afforded him the opportunity to hit daily alongside infielder Brendan Donovan, another offseason Jupiter resident. And it led to him training daily alongside the Cardinals’ strength and conditioning staff and growing his body to a ripped 259 pounds that better fills out his towering 6-foot-6 frame.

Instead of Walker’s new residence being thought of as a home, it’s more of a house that helps him scratch his baseball itch daily.

“I’ve always wanted to get my own place, and I thought Jupiter would be the best place because [team staff] could get their eyes on me and I could work with the instructors,” said Walker, whose Cardinals lost to the Astros, 7-1, on Saturday afternoon at CACTI Park of the Palm Beaches. “When [moving to Jupiter] became possible, I wanted to know what [the Cardinals] wanted from me, know what the overall plan was and how I’d be working on my weaknesses.”

Clearly, Walker is already a man with a plan. He dubbed a rookie season where he hit .276 with 16 homers and 51 RBIs in 117 games as “solid,” but he knows there is so much more potential in his still-growing physique. He wants to cut down on the 104 times he struck out as a rookie and better handle outside pitches -- as he did on Friday when he laced a 102.4 mph missile into the left-center-field gap for a triple.

Though Walker’s spring has been unspectacular so far -- he has seven strikeouts and one walk, plus a popup lost in the sun, over five games -- Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol liked the level of dedication the former first-round Draft pick showed in spending the offseason working on his craft. Since he first met the hulking youngster in 2022, Marmol has always thought Walker was on a collision course with greatness because of the maturity, hunger and raw talent he possesses.

“The combination of athleticism and his willingness to work is a great combination that will lead to us seeing a better version of him every year,” Marmol said. “Understand, I mean every year. It’s not seeing a jump from last year to this year and then a finished product. Because the way he goes about it, we’re going to see improvement month to month and year to year.”

Unlike last season, when he at times resembled an unsteady puppy still growing into its body, Walker said he feels much more comfortable now with the muscle added following an offseason of work. Weighing in at 220 pounds when the Cardinals made him a first-round pick in 2020, Walker hit 250 pounds for the first time in the summer of ‘22 after St. Louis put him on a bulking plan. These days, he’s a turkey burger or two shy of 260, his shoulders are more prominent and his jersey cuffs around defined arms.

Clearly, Walker didn’t move to Florida to play golf or hit the beach. Instead, his time was spent in the weight room and on Roger Dean Stadium’s back fields. Now, he has the nearby house to play his video games, eat his turkey burgers and unwind from baseball when not working.

“I didn’t think about last year much, because the offseason was focusing on next year and relaxing,” Walker said. “I played lots of video games and bowled a little to get my mind off baseball. Being away from the ballpark is good for me sometimes. I love the game, but clearing my mind is good, too. After I do that, I can get back at it. Finding that happy medium is important, and having my place here helps me do that.”