Walker supplies treats for Rafters with 5th homer

November 1st, 2022

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- On the one hand, knows you can’t get too comfortable in the Arizona Fall League, where every game can feel like a Minor League All-Star Game.

“There are still some tweaks and things that I have to make,” he said. “But as of right now, I had a good day. Take the good days with the bad days because the bad days are going to come as well.”

Then again, this is a man who wore a sloth onesie and Crocs during batting practice. What followed would certainly fall into the good-day category.

The Cardinals’ top prospect went deep and doubled as part of a 2-for-4 performance Monday to help Salt River defeat Scottsdale, 5-3, at Scottsdale Stadium. The homer was Walker’s fifth of the Fall League, putting him into a tie for the league lead alongside Heston Kjerstad (Orioles) and Matt Mervis (Cubs).

Many members of the Rafters’ traveling squad were decked out in various costumes ranging from multiple golfers, including a Tiger Woods caddie in Parker Meadows, to an inflatable Eric Cartman getup from Walker’s fellow St. Louis farmhand Pedro Pages.

“We’re out here to get work in, but we’re also out here to have fun,” Walker said. “I feel like it’s a really fun atmosphere. [Warren Schaeffer] is a really good manager with that. He mixes the hard work with the fun, so it’s a pretty good time out here.”

The loose atmosphere translated well early for the Rafters on Monday and especially for Walker, who batted cleanup and started in right field. The right-handed slugger worked a 2-2 count against No. 25 Braves prospect William Woods in the second inning, sitting on two fastballs for called strikes before he got the breaking pitch he wanted. The result: a well-struck solo homer to left-center on his first swing of the day.

“He had a really good slider,” he said. “I was looking for it the whole at-bat. His slider looks like his fastball, so he threw two good fastballs to hit that were tunneling off his slider. I wasn’t really looking for those. I finally got the pitch I was looking for, and I put a good swing on it.”

The 20-year-old outfielder added the two-bagger two innings later and came around to score after his unslothlike second steal of the Fall League prompted a bad throw from Scottsdale catcher Adrian Sugastey.

The long ball was Walker’s third in his last five games, and the overall showing gave him hits in nine of his last 10 Fall League games. His overall slash line has jumped to .290/.361/.597, and his .958 OPS is at its highest AFL level since Oct. 10.

The 2020 first-rounder acknowledged there isn’t something special that he’s unlocked to turn on the power of late, only that he’s relying on the same plus-plus raw power and advanced approach that’s given him success at every stop in the Minor Leagues.

“These guys are good, and they keep you on your toes,” Walker said. “You have to keep making adjustments, I feel like. Sometimes, they bombard me with fastballs. Sometimes, they throw a lot of off-speed. … You have to keep looking for what they might throw you based on what their best pitch is and try to fight.”

Those are in-game moves, but maybe pre-game, there might be a temptation to break out the onesie again if these are the results.

“I might have to wear it every day, for sure,” Walker said.

Speaking of Cardinals prospects, second-ranked and Mike Antico each picked up a pair of hits of their own in Monday’s victory -- making the three of them the only Rafters with multiple knocks. No. 24 St. Louis prospect struck out seven, walked none and allowed two runs (one earned) on five hits in five innings to earn the win. The left-hander leads the AFL with 31 punchouts in 22 2/3 frames.