'Dude’s a monster': Cardinals players, execs alike in awe of top prospect Walker

March 8th, 2022

JUPITER, Fla. -- Jordan Walker's first on-field batting practice session of Minor League Spring Training was such a must-see event on Tuesday that Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak secured a spot around the cage before the 6-foot-5, 220-pounder even stepped into the box.

Michael McGreevy, a first-round Draft pick like Walker, had to miss the 19-year-old’s session because of a hastily called pitchers meeting, but he still got to experience it via a very different sort of sensation on Tuesday.

“[Walker] was in the next group up on Field 5. [Pitching coach Darwin] Marrero took us away for a pitchers talk, but I could hear it,” McGreevy said with amazement of the echoing sound of the ball coming off Walker’s bat.

Walker, rated as the No. 3 prospect in the Cardinals' farm system per MLB Pipeline, dropped some jaws and elicited plenty of oohs and ahhs with his awesome display of power. Sure, it’s just Spring Training, but there was a noticeable difference in the sound of the ball coming off Walker’s bat when compared to the others hitting.

Despite a strong wind blowing in, Walker throttled three balls over the left-field fence and into the parking area. Even after hitting one of the longest shots of the day, Walker playfully joked, “I thought I missed” to others around him looking on in awe.

“Dude’s a monster because he’s so huge,” Cardinals 19-year-old shortstop Masyn Winn said of Walker, someone he’s known since their travel ball and high school days. “[The sound of the ball off Walker’s bat] is different, for sure. If he’s swinging and it hits the barrel, the ball’s not coming back.

"There’s no mistaking that he has one of the highest [exit velocities] on average, ever. The dude’s 19 years old and he’s making grown men look childish. I mean, for him, it’s just different because he’s so big and his approach is so simple. And he finds a lot of barrels.”

The Cardinals certainly believed in the enormous potential of Walker when they selected him No. 21 overall in the 2020 MLB Draft and rewarded him with $2.9 million in bonus money to sway him from attending Duke. Walker lived up to that promise last year in his first full season of pro ball by hitting .317 and slugging .548 while hammering 14 home runs and driving in 48 runs in 82 games between Low-A Palm Beach and High-A Peoria.

Walker, who doesn’t turn 20 until late May, remarkably did all that while saying he had very little of a plan at the plate in his first season. Whereas raw talent and power helped him become the Gatorade Player of the Year in Georgia as a high schooler, he admitted that he’s had to take more of a studious and analytical approach to hitting as he’s risen in the Cardinals' system.

“As a high school hitter, my approach to hitting wasn’t that advanced. I was sitting on one pitch and not really thinking what the pitcher might throw next or what I did on the previous swing,” Walker said. “But here, I’m learning from different people, from coaches like Jose Oquendo or players like [Nolan] Gorman or [Luken] Baker, about having a real approach at the plate.

"Now, I can have an approach on how to hit a certain pitch while still being able to react to the fastball inside. I want to be ready as a hitter and open my mind, which I didn’t do in high school. So, that’s the biggest difference.”

The biggest question surrounding Walker -- other than what level he will be at to begin this season -- is what position he will play by the time he reaches the big leagues. He’s been a third baseman much of his life, but some in the Cardinals organization already wonder if he might outgrow the position as his frame matures.

With that in mind, Walker worked with Oquendo throughout January and February on taking ground balls at first base and fly balls at the two corner outfield slots, and he said his focus this offseason was on trying to become more mobile. The designated hitter position, which could become universal throughout baseball, could provide another route to the Majors.

“I was a little locked up last season and I wasn’t moving as well as I wanted to,” Walker said. “Defense, I need to work on that a little more. It doesn’t come as easy to me as other things. I’m not saying hitting is easy, but it’s harder for me to do defensive work, so focusing there is what I needed to do.”

A precocious teen, Walker said he is willing to do whatever the Cardinals want if it will help him reach the big-league level. That, apparently, includes bunting drills, which he took part in on Monday -- even though the sight of a physically imposing bopper with 115 mph exit velocity potential induced a few snickers from teammates and coaches.

“Hey, whatever they need me to do, I’ll do,” Walker joked. “It’s just nice to have that in your back pocket.”

It’s also nice having the ability to drill baseballs 450 feet into a stiff wind as Walker did time and again on Tuesday to the amazement of Cardinals teammates, coaches and front-office staffers.