Baseball players in a dugout
With 15 home runs and an OPS in the rare range of over .900, Jordan Walker enters the home stretch of the 2022 season the No. 6 prospect according to MLB.com. (Photo: P.J Maigi, Springfield Cardinals)

OPINION |

As the Major League Baseball trade deadline of Aug. 2 neared, the St. Louis Cardinals’ top minor-league prospect tried to tune out speculation that he might be included in a mega-trade for Washington’s Juan Soto.

But in this world of social media and instant innuendo, Jordan Walker admitted that it was impossible. He just tried to do his thing, which is hitting baseballs hard.

In the three games prior to the deadline, Walker hit .400 with four home runs and seven RBIs. Then he boarded a bus for a 13-hour bus ride to Corpus Christi and let the situation play out.

Soto was traded to the San Diego Padres the day of the road trip opener. Walker, his buddy and fellow rising prospect Masyn Wynn and others in the rumor mill remained in the Cardinals’ organization. 

Some of the best trades are the ones that aren’t made. 

Walker happy to still be a Cardinal

Walker — who’s risen to No. 6 in the just-released MLB.com prospect rankings — and the Springfield Cardinals returned to Hammons Field this week for the first time since the deadline passed. He’s now playing outfield, with starts in all three positions in the last 15 games.

The 20-year-old Walker said he felt relief once the Soto trade went down with the Padres and not the Cardinals. He was drafted a Cardinal and wanted to stay one.

“A little bit,” Walker said, when asked if he was relieved. “It was in the back of our minds. We knew what was going on. It was a little bit of a relief, though I wouldn’t say I stressed over it too much.”

A baseball player throws the ball from the outfield
Jordan Walker’s path to the big leagues with the St. Louis Cardinals should only be wider with his ability to play in the outfield. (Photo: P.J. Maigi, Springfield Cardinals)

Blocked at third, Walker moving to outfield

It seems no coincidence that the Cardinals began playing Walker in the outfield when the trade deadline passed. Though his entire minor league career had been spent defensively at third base, there’s an All-Star manning the hot corner in St. Louis.

Nolan Arenado isn’t going anywhere for a few years. While playing third capably was a great way to showcase Walker to other big-league teams, adding outfield to his portfolio will only clear a wider path to Busch Stadium.

“It gives the manager flexibility. You can see guys like that being very valuable to us in the big leagues,” said Springfield manager Jose Leger, mentioning former Springfield Cardinals Tommy Edman, Brendan Donovan and Juan Yepez as multi-position players on the big-league roster.

“Guys that play multiple positions have a lot of value and if you can contribute offensively it’s even better,” Leger said.

Swinging a hot bat while his glove warms up

Walker’s bat continues to shine. The 21st overall pick of the 2020 draft hit two home runs Thursday night against Arkansas, giving him 15 for the season with 53 RBIs. He’s hitting .310 with 17 stolen bases and his OPS (on-base plus slugging) is an impressive .915.

The transition to the outfield has been good so far, though Walker admits he has a lot to learn. He made his third start in center field on Thursday after playing six games in right and two in left and center. He’s yet to make an error or misplay a fly ball.

“I like center field. I think left field is my least favorite, but I’ll come to like it the more time I get there,” Walker said. “Reading the ball off the bat is definitely something I have to work on, but it’s been fun.

“Every fly ball I’m getting, every low line drive I’m getting, I feel like I’m getting a little better. At some point, I’m going to get there. It’s a process. I need more reps, but I’m having a good time learning.”

Walker made a nice, running catch of a foul ball as he bumped into the wall alongside the right-field bullpen on Wednesday. He already has three outfield assists, including cutting down a runner at the plate from center last week in Amarillo.

“It was a missile,” Leger said of the throw. “His arm plays a couple of grades above in the outfield as opposed to the infield because he lets it go. You can see the arm strength there and definitely can see the athleticism.

“I’m excited for him. I think it’s going to be a pretty quick adjustment for him.”

A baseball player swings his bat
No matter where he plays defensively, top St. Louis Cardinals prospect Jordan Walker continues to hit. With two home runs Thursday night for the Springfield Cardinals, he has 15 home runs this season. (Photo: P.J. Maigi, Springfield Cardinals)

Walker understands how the more places he’s able to defend, the quicker he will be in the big leagues. He seems to be enjoying the journey and is a willing student.

“I want to be able to play left, right or center and if they need a third baseman, I can play there, too,” Walker said. “I don’t want to limit my options, but have more options to get into the lineup by being able to play different positions.”

And the way the big guy can hit? They’ll find a place for him.

Cardinals at home

The Springfield Cardinals continue a six-game homestand at Hammons Field against the Arkansas Travelers, Double-A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners, through Sunday. A look at the series:

  • Tuesday: Springfield 2, Arkansas 1
  • Wednesday: Arkansas 7, Springfield 6
  • Thursday: Springfield 5, Arkansas 4
  • Friday: 7:05 p.m. (St. Louis Cardinals 1982 Mystery Player World Series Replica Ring Giveaway)
  • Saturday: 6:35 p.m. (Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright Mystery Jersey Giveaway)
  • Sunday: 1:35 p.m. (Hiland Dairy Ice Cream Sunday)

Lyndal Scranton

Lyndal Scranton is a Springfield native who has covered sports in the Ozarks for more than 35 years, witnessing nearly every big sports moment in the region during the last 50 years. The Springfield Area Sports Hall of Famer and live-fire cooking enthusiast also serves as PR Director for Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Missouri, co-hosts The Sports Reporters on Jock 96.9 FM, 99.9 FM and 1060 AM on Monday mornings with Ned Reynolds and is co-host of the Tailgate Guys BBQ Podcast. Contact him at Lscranton755@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @LyndalScranton. More by Lyndal Scranton