When the minor-league baseball season and prospect development were reduced to alternate site training in 2020, a then-18-year-old Jordan Walker envisioned one thing after training at the Cardinals alternate site in Springfield, Mo.
“I was like, 'one day I'm going to get here again on my way to the MLB,’” Walker recalled.
Now, at just 19 years old, Walker plays third base and hits at the top of Class AA Springfield’s lineup in the same venue where he began his pro career as a recent Decatur (Ga.) High School graduate.
“Being here again means pretty much the world to me on my journey to the MLB,” Walker said during an interview in Springfield, Mo.
The moment Walker learned where his 2022 season would start came during one of the final days of minor-league spring training when Springfield manager Jose Leger spoke with him about the organization’s decision to promote him to Double-A.
“I think (Leger) would be the only one to describe the big smile that I had on my face,” Walker said. “But I was smiling all the way (when) I got back to the locker room. It was a pretty special moment for me.”
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The start of Walker’s season has been a continuation of what he did during his first year in the minor-leagues. In 2021, and hit .317 with 14 homers, 48 RBIs and 25 doubles in games with Class Low-A Palm Beach and High-A Peoria.
With Springfield, Walker is batting .327 with three homers, 18 RBIs, and a .943 OPS in his first 28 games. His power numbers have come on as of late, as he is slugging .618 with five doubles and two homers through 11 games in May after he posted a .394 slugging percentage in 17 games in April.
He continued his recent power surge by going 2-for-4 with a three-run homer, a double and four total RBIs in Springfield’s 12-8 win against Amarillo on Friday. His homer against the Sod Poodles sailed over the berm in left field, and was his second in his last three games. His four RBIs were a season-high.
“This kid is pretty polished for a 19-year-old, and he’s being challenged to play at the Double-A level,” Leger said during an interview in Springfield. “That's the thing that has impressed me the most — his attitude and the way he hits the ball. He's just amazing.”
A difference Walker noticed after stepping into the batter’s box in Double-A is with the quality of opposing pitchers. More specifically, the changes he noticed are with the pitch types he sees in typical hitter’s counts.
“The pitching here is phenomenal,” he said. “You can never take anything out of your approach. So, when you get in a 3-0, fastball count, I've gotten a lot of changeup (and) sliders. … These guys are good enough where they can throw their secondary pitches for strikes and I got to adjust to that.”
On the defensive side of things, Walker felt like he improved his glove skills while in Jupiter, Fla this past spring. He worked with Leger and infield instructor Jose Oquendo throughout preseason to do so. Some of that work included improving on fielding balls to his backhand after, which Leger noted Walker struggled with in the preseason.
“I feel more comfortable on defense now, and I think that's all that it's about,” Walker said. “I've been getting in my mind a little bit — in my head. But I feel like the main thing that I need to focus on is confidence. When I'm confident fielding, I feel like I can I can make every play in the world. So that's basically where I'm at right now.”
Leger said Walker’s 6-foot-5 frame adds an extra degree of difficulty for him to get into a fielding position at third base. But he notes that Walker is doing well in making those adjustments to improve at the hot corner.
The Springfield manager credits some of that to Walker’s work ethic. He saw that first-hand when the 19-year-old had a scheduled day off during a home game against the Tulsa Drillers on April 21.
“He’s very diligent about his work,” Leger said. “We were in the cage today, and a day like today where he's got the day off, and we told him, 'Listen, just take the whole day off from hitting.' He's in there with his glove and a ball in his hand, just bouncing balls of the net, and working on his defense.
“He's going to get better defensively. He's not where he wants to be. He's not where we want him to be yet, but he's going to be better defensively. He's working out and he's got the right tools.”
Walker, who turns 20 on May 22, typically sets goals with his father, Derek, at the start of each season.
When asked about those goals during an interview in late April, Walker said the two had not discussed that yet. So, he just looked to keep his mindset simple heading into 2022.
“I'm just trying to hit the ball hard, and I feel like once I hit the ball hard things are going to go my way,” he said. “And then I'm just going to make the plays that I'm given in the field. So those are basically the most simple goals I have for myself right now.”
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