Jordan Walker arrived in Springfield and Double-A baseball 10 weeks ago with expectations that could only surround a No. 1 prospect in the St. Louis Cardinals organization.
Since that time, Walker has lived up to the hype and then some. His defining moment so far came on Wednesday night with a walk-off, 432-foot home run that soared over Hammons Field’s left-field manual scoreboard like an Elon Musk space rocket.
“Unreal,” Walker said in describing the two-run blast — with an exit velocity of 109 mph — which gave Springfield a 10-8 victory over the Corpus Christi Hooks.
Walker said it was his first game-ending home run at any level. He smiled about it before Thursday night’s game and said that’s why he probably gave an excited, absolutely outstanding bat flip after wood met cowhide.
“I don’t know how to describe it really,” Walker said. “It was kind of a blur after I hit the ball. Whether it was celebrating at home plate or celebrating with my teammates, it was really exciting. I don’t think I can describe it any other way.”
Exciting is the only way to describe the 20-year-old Walker’s season. The first round draft choice and 21st selection overall in 2020 is hitting .312 with 16 doubles, two triples, seven home runs, 27 RBIs and has 14 stolen bases.
Consistency is there, power is coming
Walker’s consistency has been marvelous. He hit .318 in April, .311 in May and is at .306 halfway through June.
Maybe the most-impressive stat of all: He is yet to go hitless in back-to-back games. In 134 career minor-league games, covering 2021 and ’22, he’s never gone hitless in three consecutive games.
When I asked Cardinals manager Jose Leger about Walker in early April, he broke into a smile that now has turned into a grin worthy of a toothpaste ad. It’s clear that Walker is something special.
“The kid works hard and smart,” Leger said. “He has a great physique and he’s putting it together on the field and always doing it with a smile on his face.”
For the Cardinals, the “scary good” part of his game is the power is just starting to come around. Only one of his home runs came in April with three in May and three already in June.
Leger said that power is usually the last offensive piece to fall into place for a still-raw talent like Walker who, at 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, is starting to show flashes of his overall brilliance.
“If you look at Jordan right now, he’s not even halfway where he will be,” Leger said. “When you put his contact rate and his average exit velo together, you expect to have a lot more home runs than he has right now. That tells you he hasn’t figured it out yet.
“Once he starts lifting the ball and hitting it more in the air, you are going to see the home runs go through the roof.”
Walker said he wasn’t trying to lift the ball on his game-winning home run, only hoping to hit a line drive into the gap and send speedy fellow 20-year-old prospect Masyn Wynn around with the winning run.
“I tried to hit the gap and I got a little lucky,” Walker said, adding that he isn’t focusing on hitting home runs this season.
“It’s about bat-flight path. Just my path toward the ball,” Walker said of his approach. “To be honest, I wasn’t looking to hit too many home runs. If they come, they come. My bat path is not really geared toward home runs, but if they do come it’s nice.”
Walker’s work ethic impresses
Walker complements his talent with a work ethic and attitude that both Leger and teammates rave about.
“He’s definitely mature beyond his years,” 24-year-old teammate Matt Koperniak said. “He’s shown he can play with guys here four or five years older than him. He treats every day with good intention.”
The day after the big blast, Walker was back at work. With the temperature in the mid-90s on Thursday, three hours before game time, Walker and Winn were the lone Cardinals on the field working on fielding drills with Cardinals roving instructor Jose Oquendo.
Walker admits his defense at third base is a work in progress. He smiled about the chance to work with Oquendo, the former big-leaguer who is something of a walking legend for his instruction in the Cardinals’ system.
“He’s really smart and knows everything about fielding,” Walker said. “Any time ‘J.O.’ wants to work with me, I’ll take it. It’s pretty special having him around.”
Asked about Walker’s future defensive position, with all-star Nolan Arenado seemingly entrenched at third base for the big Cardinals, Leger said it’s full speed ahead at third for Walker as of now.
“Our focus is at third base. That’s where he was drafted and he has done well there so far,” Leger said. “I know we have some big names there, but you know how this game goes. You never know what is going to happen next. But right now, the focus is third base.”
There is plenty yet to learn, both with the bat and glove. Leger said he can hardly wait to see Walker’s development continue with an eventual destination of St. Louis.
“I’m looking forward to him finishing healthy (this season) and I’m looking forward to him being in the big leagues in a couple of years and being able to do that in Busch Stadium,” Leger said. “I have no doubt he will.”
The Springfield Cardinals are playing the Corpus Christi Hooks, an affiliate of the Houston Astros, in a six-game series at Hammons Field. A look at the results and upcoming games:
Tuesday – Springfield 3, Corpus Christi 0
Wednesday – Springfield 10, Corpus Christi 8
Thursday – Corpus Christi 5, Springfield 3
Friday – 7:05 p.m. – Marvel Defenders of the Diamond, post-game fireworks
Saturday – 6:35 p.m. – Mike Shannon Bobblehead giveaway (first 2,000 fans)
Sunday – 1:35 p.m. – Hiland Dairy Ice Cream Sunday, Kids Run the Bases
Tickets: Call 417-863-0395 or visit the Cardinals box office at Hammons Field