Jordan Walker demoted amid early struggles

April 24th, 2024

ST. LOUIS -- , who made the Cardinals out of Spring Training in 2023 and finished his first MLB season with a flurry, was demoted to Triple-A on Wednesday in hopes that he can address his swing issues in a lower-stakes environment.

The Cardinals want the 6-foot-6, 250-pound Walker to work on getting more loft in his swing and to address the pitch recognition issues that have led to him struggling badly at the start of the season. Walker, 21, was out of the lineup on Sunday and Monday and went 0-for-3 as the designated hitter in Tuesday’s 14-1 loss to the D-backs. The Cardinals informed Walker of the move on Wednesday morning and manager Oliver Marmol said the young outfielder was receptive to the idea of heading to Triple-A to work on his swing.

“There was a lot of discussion around it and thinking about what’s best for Jordan’s development; going down to a lower-stake environment and working on the things that he’s been working on the last several weeks made sense,” Marmol said. “I had a good conversation with him this morning, and he felt good about going down there, getting in the work and getting back to producing. He’s got to be feeling good about where he’s at swing-wise and pitch-selection-wise in order to get back up here to help us.”

Walker was just 9-for-58 (.155) with four doubles, a triple and four RBIs in 20 games this season. At issue for the Cardinals were Walker’s inability to lift balls for homers and his rising whiff rate. Walker has seen an increase in his ground-ball rate (from 46.9 percent in 2023 to 50 percent this season), an increase in his strikeout rate (from 22.4 percent to 26.9 percent) and a decrease in his line-drive rate (from 25.2 percent to 16.7 percent).

Walker’s struggles in laying off pitches low and away have led to issues with his swing posture, Marmol noted. The manager said Walker will spend the next couple of days working on retooling his swing before getting into games with the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds.

“It’s just about what he’s swinging at, compared to how he’s getting pitched and what the league is trying to do to him,” Marmol said. “He has to be able to combat that. [Getting demoted] is not something you want and not something anybody wants for him, but the situation does call for it. Getting at bats for [Iván] Herrera and [Willson] Contreras at the DH and [Alec] Burleson, if [Walker] isn’t going to be in the lineup every day at his age, then the best thing for him is to go down and play every day and get to where he needs to get to.”

Infielder José Fermín, who was batting .350 with Memphis, was recalled to replace Walker on the roster. Left-handed pitcher Zack Thompson, who surrendered seven earned runs in relief on Tuesday, was optioned to Memphis, where he will move back into a starting role. John King was recalled from Memphis for a second stint with the Cardinals this season.

Walker made headlines early last season when he opened his MLB career with hits in his first 12 games as a 20-year-old rookie. However, when struggles ultimately ensued, he was demoted to Memphis, where he spent five weeks. He returned to the big leagues on June 2 and finished his rookie season strong, hitting .276 with 16 home runs, 19 doubles and 51 RBIs in 117 MLB games.

Seeing how Walker, a first-round Draft pick in 2020, responded to his demotion in 2023 was one reason the Cardinals felt a similar move this season could benefit him.

“That is what Triple-A is for -- to develop. And there’s room for that at the moment,” Marmol said. “He handled [the demotion] well. It’s a hard game and there are constant adjustments, and you know that the league is going to expose your weaknesses. [MLB] is an environment that’s tough to make swing adjustments at. It’s one thing to make pitch selection and pitch recognition adjustments at this level, but when you’re trying to do that and you know your swing is not where it needs to be, that makes it a little bit more difficult, especially at his age.

“It makes more sense for Jordan at the moment to get the reps in a lower-stake environment, it really does.”