SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Even those keeping a keen eye on Monday’s Glendale/Salt River contest in the Arizona Fall League would have said Jordan Walker stood out for reasons beyond a failed attempt to cut down a runner at the dish – a 434-foot home run among them.
But when the Cardinals' top prospect came charging in from right field during the top of the sixth inning and unleashed a rocket throw on the mark to Rafters catcher Pedro Pages, he cut the ball loose at 99.5 mph, a throw harder than any by a St. Louis Cardinals outfielder since Statcast began to keep track in 2015.
The franchise’s high watermark belongs to former center fielder Harrison Bader, who recorded a 99.2 mph throw on Sept. 5, 2018, which was also an attempt to cut down a runner at the plate. This season, Dylan Carlson topped the Cardinals’ charts with a 98.2 mph throw on Aug. 13. Only 17 players – all outfielders – recorded a harder throw from the field in 2022 than Walker’s latest laser.
A 20-year-old ripping off a throw that would vault him into the upper echelon of outfield arms in the big leagues may be impressive in its own right, but consider that Walker has made all of 30 pro starts in the outfield and it becomes downright mystifying. And the former third baseman believes he is only just scratching the surface of what those throws could look like.
“In the infield, get it out quick. Right here and just letting it go,” Walker said, pantomiming a quick scoop and release. “Now I feel I’m getting good arm motion on it. It’s a little different, but I feel like it works better in the outfield that way.”
Walker said last week that he was “still getting adjusted” to life no longer on the dirt. That appears to be the height of modesty. Across just 29 games in right and center field for Double-A Springfield during the regular season, he compiled 10 assists (and two double plays), a considerable amount by any regard, but a gargantuan one when factoring in the limited reps. To put those numbers in context, the average Major League single-season high in outfield assists over the past five years is 12.8.
Walker, who plays at the only Arizona Fall League park equipped with Statcast data, has showcased through eight games an otherworldly skill set -- one that has vaulted him to No. 6 on MLB Pipeline’s overall prospect rankings.
Just a half frame before he showcased arguably the strongest throwing outfield arm in attendance at the AFL, Walker displayed that he may possess the preeminent hard-hit ability. While few positives can be gleaned from grounding into a double play, Walker hit the ball with a 112.7 mph exit velocity to second base in the bottom of the fifth, more than two miles per hour harder than any other batted ball through that point in the season. On Wednesday, he registered exit velocities of 112.3 and 110.0 on a pair of base hits, giving him three of the top four marks in the league through the first week and a half of the season.
Walker’s highest-rated tool is his power (65, on a 20-80 scouting scale). Through 201 Minor League games, the 6-foot-5 right-handed hitter has amassed 56 doubles and 33 home runs en route to a .525 slugging percentage. That power potential has played well in the hitter-friendly environment that the Fall League enjoys; his first two homers have gone 423 and 434 feet respectively with both ranking in the top seven of available home run distance data.
But the fun with Walker’s Statcast data doesn’t end there: his sprint speed, which considers anything at or above 30 feet per second to be “elite,” has continuously hovered around that territory. His AFL high of 29.9 came on Oct. 5 as he attempted to beat out what was ultimately ruled an infield error.
Masyn Winn, the Cardinals’ No. 2 prospect, put himself on the map with a 100.5 mph throw from short during the All-Star Futures Game in July.
Walker and Winn, who are close friends and have known each other since before they made up the crown jewels of the club’s 2020 Draft class, remain perpetually in competition with one another.
“I can’t, he hit one above me – 100.5 [mph],” Walker said of potentially bragging to Winn about his throwing prowess. “So you know what? Next time I’ll see what I got, man; I’ll let it go and see what I can get.
“I’ll give it to him: he has a better arm right now, but I’m always trying to compete with it.”