JUPITER, Fla. -- Jordan Walker’s legend long preceded his arrival at the big league level. It was one that told of a seemingly can’t-miss kid possessing an arsenal of five tools in a complete package almost too good to be true.
In Walker’s first Grapefruit League start on Sunday, it took him just three innings to show off how dynamic of a skill set that he possesses as the top prospect in the Cardinals system.
As if hitting a towering 430-foot home run in the first inning of the Cardinals 8-2 win over the Marlins wasn’t impressive enough, Walker -- a converted third baseman moved to the outfield to clear a path to MLB -- battled the sun and tracked down a fly against the wall.
Then, showing off the kind of speed unexpected from a 6-foot-5, 250-pounder, Walker beat out a dribbler to third for an infield single. According to Statcast, Walker registered a sprint speed of 28.5 feet per second – with 30 feet per second being considered elite-level speed usually reserved for middle infielders and cat-quick centerfielders.
“I can always improve, because I didn’t get the best read on that [fly] ball -- but I do want to show I have a lot of tools,” said Walker, ranked as the No. 4 prospect in baseball by MLB Pipeline. “I want to show that to the team, so it did feel good to do that. But there’s still a lot to work on, for sure.”
Masyn Winn, a 2020 draft mate of Walker’s and his teammate the past two Minor League systems, said the Cardinals outfielder is so immensely talented that scouts might have to reclassify rankings when it comes to the 20-year-old. Winn, mind you, knows talent as the No. 2-ranked prospect in the Cardinals system, and he’s used to seeing greatness daily from Walker.
“I see it every day, so it’s not a surprise to me,” said Winn, who went 2-for-2 with his first two Grapefruit League hits. “I think he threw a ball home [on Saturday] that might have touched 100. It might have shocked people, but to me that’s just Jordan. The way he catches a barrel, the way he fields, the way he throws and runs, he’s the complete package. Five tools? They’ve got to make a sixth tool for him.”
Walker, who once had a 3.98 GPA in high school and a scholarship offer to Duke University, listened intently to the advice given to him on Sunday from veteran outfielder Tyler O’Neill about what pitch to look for. After processing that information, Walker pounced on a belt-high sinker from Johnny Cueto and smashed it 430 feet over the left-center fence -- a legendary shot among Cardinals who know the reputation of Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium as a pitcher’s park. Walker’s secret: The ball left his bat at a scorching 108.9 miles per hour.
“Honestly, no, I didn’t,” Walker said when asked if he knew the ball was gone off the bat. “It was the first home run in a while, so I might have forgotten how it feels a little bit. The ball dies here, and I’ve talked to a lot of pitchers who love pitching here. So, it felt good to get one out of here. You’re not 100 percent sure at this ballpark, especially when it’s to the gap.”
Winn, Walker’s closest friend in baseball, had no such doubts and he had a hoarse voice afterward to prove it.
Said Winn: “I lost my voice, and I lost it on one swing. Even at Roger Dean, that’s a no-doubter. At Busch [Stadium], that might go 470 [feet].”
Of all the glowing praise Walker’s wide array of talents evoked on Sunday, maybe none were more telling than what new Marlins manager Skip Schumaker said after seeing the rookie go two for four with three RBI. Schumaker, a 2011 World Series champion with the Cards, was St. Louis’ bench coach last season, giving him a chance to meet and gawk at Walker’s skill set in Spring Training a year ago. Now, Schumaker said Walker’s star power could ultimately take him into baseball’s highest stratosphere.
“For me, [Fernando] Tatis [Jr.] was the most exciting prospect in San Diego and then I saw Jordan Walker, and that’s pretty dang close to it … the next Tatis,” Schumaker gushed. “He does everything the right way and he’s a really good kid. He shakes your hand the right way, talks the right way. He's a special human being.
“He’s about as exciting a position player as I've seen in my coaching career, so I wasn’t surprised when I see him continuing to look like that,” Schumaker added. “It's a real bat.”