No. 1 prospect Walker breaks out for 3-hit, 3-RBI day

May 15th, 2023

BOSTON -- Jordan Walker, MLB Pipeline’s No. 1-ranked prospect in baseball, made the Cardinals’ Opening Day roster by showing a sophistication to his plate approach while also displaying an ability to handle any sort of pitching.

MLB pitchers ultimately put those skills to the test, resulting in the rookie being given an early-season demotion to Triple-A Memphis. To battle his way back to the big leagues and the Cardinals, Walker will need to dig his way out of a hitting slump that has been somewhat predictable to those with the Cardinals who hope to see the 6-foot-6, 245-pound prospect eventually maximize his full potential.

Walker, who is still eight days shy of his 21st birthday, had his finest offensive performance at the Triple-A level Sunday, going 3-for-5 with a double, three RBIs, two runs scored and a walk. That was a welcomed sight considering that he came into the day mired in a 5-for-36 slump with just one extra-base hit and no home runs in his first 10 games of May. That was somewhat shocking after Walker had a historic 12-game hitting streak to open his MLB career and he registered 25 hard-hit balls (95 mph or more) during his 20-game stint with the Cardinals to open the 2023 MLB season.

Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said the rookie’s Triple-A struggles are likely a product of the changes the organization is trying to make with his long, looping swing. While Walker did smash two home runs and three doubles during his time with the Cardinals, the organization had concerns about his 58.5 percent ground-ball rate.

The Cards sent Walker to Memphis with a plan to work on lifting more balls to potentially hit more line drives and towering fly balls for home runs. The team also wants him to be better prepared for how pitchers often attacked him previously at the big league level: hard stuff inside early in counts and softer stuff away to get him to chase. Walker hit .333 with a home run against breaking balls and .259 with a homer against fastballs, but he did not have a hit in his seven at-bats that ended in offspeed pitches at the MLB level.

“I wouldn't put too much weight into his results at the moment because there's an actual change being made with how he's getting to the ball and through the ball,” Marmol said of the Cardinals’ top prospect. “Anytime you do that, there's usually a step back before he really takes off.”

Marmol said the Cardinals sent the outfielder to Memphis with an actionable plan and plenty of support to help analyze and improve his swing. The Cardinals’ MLB hitting staff of Turner Ward and Brandon Allen, Minor League hitting coordinator Russ Steinhorn and Triple-A Memphis hitting coach Howie Clark are all taking active roles in Walker developing a swing with more lift. The team is plied with reports of Walker’s swing progress on a daily basis.

Following some understandable growing pains with Walker’s new swing, Marmol thinks the young slugger will eventually look more like the dangerous hitter the club thinks he can be, and he’ll return to the big leagues “sooner than later.”

“I think and I hope [most fans] would agree that in order for Jordan Walker to be what we all anticipate Jordan Walker being, then there had to be a different approach against soft [velocity] and his ability to get the ball off the ground,” Marmol said. “And, in order to do that, there's some things that he needed to make adjustments to.”

Here is a look at how some of the organization’s other top prospects at each level are faring this season:

Triple-A Memphis
Prized left-hander Matthew Liberatore, who is ranked at No. 93 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 list, improved to 4-1 with a victory over Lehigh Valley on Friday night. Over seven innings, Liberatore registered five strikeouts, but he surrendered two home runs and four earned runs. Long balls were an issue in 2022 when Liberatore made his MLB debut and allowed five home runs in 34 2/3 big league innings. For the season with Memphis, Liberatore has a 3.13 ERA with 56 strikeouts in 46 innings and has held foes to a .226 batting average. His four victories are tied for the second most in the International League.

Luken Baker, Memphis’ 6-foot-4, 280-pound first baseman, drove in three more runs with a bases-clearing double on Saturday night of the squad’s defeat of Lehigh Valley. Baker leads the International League in home runs (14), is third in OPS (1.143), third in RBIs (36) and is 23rd in batting average (.313).

Double-A Springfield
Chandler Redmond, who shot to fame last season when he had what is believed to be just the second home run cycle in the modern era of pro baseball, is once again putting up impressive power numbers for the Redbirds. Redmond, a 26-year-old infielder, leads the Texas League in home runs (12) and RBIs (31). The 32nd-round Draft choice from 2019 is hitting just .234, but he has an OPS of .937.

High-A Peoria
This past week saw the much-anticipated return of right-handed pitcher Tink Hence, who missed nearly a month with a chest/pectoral injury suffered in the fourth inning of an outing on April 13. The 20-year-old Hence, the No. 3-ranked prospect in the system, returned to the mound on Friday and struck out five batters over three scoreless innings pitched. The Arkansas native, who impressed the Cardinals in Spring Training with his ability to mix pitches, allowed just one Dayton hit in his first start back. In 10 2/3 innings over three outings this season, Hence has racked up 13 strikeouts and an 0.84 WHIP.

Single-A Palm Beach
Joshua Baez, the No. 54 overall draft pick by the Cards in 2021, has yet to hit for the power some projected for him as a 6-foot-3, 220-pound athlete. In his first 19 games, he’s hit just one home run, but he has racked up three doubles and three triples. The 19-year-old Baez, who is the No. 11 ranked prospect in the Cards’ system, is still having trouble with strikeouts, fanning 29 times compared to just eight walks. Last season, he whiffed 44 times in 32 games, but he also smashed four home runs, eight doubles and a triple.