Walton making most of first taste of big leagues

September 14th, 2019

SEATTLE -- With shortstop J.P Crawford returning from a strained right hamstring on Friday, rookie callup Donnie Walton’s playing time figures to be limited in the final two weeks of the season. But the 25-year-old out of Oklahoma State certainly made the most of his initial two starts in the big leagues.

Walton, the Mariners’ fifth-round Draft pick in 2016, made an excellent diving stop of a ball ripped up the middle off Justus Sheffield on the very first play in his first Major League start in Wednesday’s 5-3 win over the Reds.

“Unbelievable,” Walton said. “The ball will find you. I was like, ‘Hit me one, I’m ready.’ So when that first one came by, I was pretty happy, pretty stoked.”

After going 0-for-2 with a walk against Sonny Gray in his opener, he then notched his first MLB hit with a single to left off Tyler Mahle in the second inning of Thursday’s 11-5 setback.

It’s not a moment he’ll ever forget after feeling the electricity run through him as the ball shot past the left side of the Reds’ infield shift.

“I couldn't feel my body running down to first,” he said.

These are the moments Walton has been dreaming of since he was a child growing up in Tulsa. He hails from an athletic family. His dad, Rob, is the pitching coach at Oklahoma State and spent five years in the Orioles’ Minor League organization as a pitcher.

Davis Walton, his older brother, was a 6-foot-5, 285-pound offensive lineman for four years at Tulsa University and now is looking to become a fireman and strength coach. Younger sister, Cassie, is a 5-foot-10 volleyball player at Missouri Southern.

Donnie was a standout baseball player at Oklahoma State, but at 5-10, 175 pounds, doesn’t share his siblings' size.

“I got the short end of the stick,” he said with a smile.

But Walton grew up loving baseball and has the instincts and drive to have pushed his way into the Mariners’ focus as one of their up-and-coming prospects.

“He finds a way to make plays. That’s just who he is,” manager Scott Servais said. “He’s a baseball player. He’s not going to wow you with any particular tool, other than what is between his ears. He knows how to play baseball. He grew up around it and the IQ is really, really high.”

In his first two games, Walton kept in mind the advice of many who’ve told him it’s the same game at the big league level and just go out and play. But with his family and girlfriend in the stands, he’s taken a few chances to step back and soak things in.

“I did that more in pregame,” he said. “Just kind of looked up and thought, ‘This is pretty sweet.’ But once the game starts, it’s time to lock in."

As the Mariners’ No. 28-ranked prospect, per MLB Pipeline, he’s not guaranteed anything in the future, but he’ll soak up everything possible in these next couple of weeks.

“I can’t thank this organization enough for giving me an opportunity,” Walton said. “I’m going to make the most of it. This is going to help me a lot, being around [Kyle] Seager, Dee Gordon and guys that have been up here for a while and just able to pick their brains. I know I don’t have everything put together, so I’m willing to learn every day.”

Worth noting

• The Mariners will honor ’s career in a pregame celebration at 5:45 p.m. PT on Saturday, prior to the 6:10 p.m. game against the White Sox. The first 20,000 fans will also receive an Ichiro bobblehead, while the first 15,000 fans on Sunday will get an Ichiro T-shirt.

• Domingo Santana continues taking batting practice without any issues with his strained right elbow and is throwing out to about 150 feet. He's expected to be activated off the 10-day injured list during Seattle's upcoming road trip and fill a designated hitter or pinch-hitter role, but could play a few games in the outfield before the season ends.

• Servais still hasn't ruled Mitch Haniger out for the remainder of the season, though "certainly the clock is ticking." Haniger still isn't doing any baseball activity due to the sore back that has hampered him since he began playing Minor League rehab games last month while returning from a ruptured testicle.

• Despite getting just two outs while walking five in his MLB debut on Wednesday, Mariners' No. 5 prospect Justin Dunn will continue working in a starter role in front of Tommy Milone, so he'll get his next shot Wednesday in Pittsburgh.