Cardinals prospect Jordan Walker enjoyed his first major league spring training
JUPITER, Fla. — Jordan Walker is hard to miss just by his height. He is 6 feet 5 inches tall and although his official weight is 220 pounds, he claims to have put on more than that. As he runs from court to court at the Cardinals’ spring training facility, Walker isn’t shy about greeting almost everyone by name. He often stops to ask for autographs, and when he’s done practicing, he’s usually happy to oblige. From time to time you may or may not hear her singing to herself in the closet as she gets ready for the day.
Walker is naturally charismatic, which can be difficult to convey as a first-time minor leaguer called up to major league camp. But he’s also intentional and eager to learn, Walker isn’t your average major leaguer, and he wasted no time showing it this spring.
The Cardinals’ top prospect entered spring training with a legitimate chance to land a spot on the Opening Day roster as an outfielder. It doesn’t matter that he’s only 20 years old, or that he’s only played in the outfield professionally for half a season, and that he hasn’t hit above Double A. His poise, professionalism and the way he managed the game are all important. the hype surrounding him as he approaches the major leagues. So far it has passed all the tests.
“He’s only going to get better,” manager Oli Marmol said Friday morning. “He’s asking the right questions of the right guys and I think we’re going to continue to make progress. As far as talent is concerned, it is very special. … He is a very good athlete. Nice body but still moves very well. He can hit the ball a long distance, but he’s more than just powerful and trades it with a ton of swing. He knows how to hit. I think that’s why we talked about it so much.
He certainly impressed in his first week of games. Walker is 5-for-14 with a 1.017 OPS and his first hit of the spring fell 430 feet for a solo home run off 15-year MLB veteran Johnny Cueto. As impressive as it was, Walker’s off-the-field stories resonated with people in the organization, including Marmol. Walker regularly consults with Nolan Arenado on hitting and mechanics. He often looks for Paul Goldschmidt in the batting cages. He has been linked with Juan Yepes having trouble adjusting to the outfield. Tommy Edman and Brendan Donovan sat down with Walker in the backfield before spring to give advice on how to adjust to big league camp. In any situation, no matter the person or the scenario, Walker had an ear for everyone.
Jordan Walker would like to introduce himself! pic.twitter.com/zhPiBZPMhG
— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) February 26, 2023
Balancing the responsibilities, expectations and emotions that come with spring training this year, Walker learned something new almost every day. He sat together Athleticism sharing some of those lessons, how his side has been doing so far, where he wants to improve and how he sees himself as a player.
(The questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity).
What are your impressions of your first spring in the major leagues?
I think it’s going well so far. I’m going to spend some time talking to the big leaguers, picking their brains. I have a chance to meet the live pitching I’ve wanted since the end of last season. I think it’s gone pretty well so far.
As you get ready to come to camp, what’s the #1 thing you want to focus on this spring?
To be honest, I didn’t say anything to myself. If anything, it was just playing hardball. That’s it. I’m someone who keeps things simple. As long as I played well, everything would be fine. I really need to rest to perform at my best, so I don’t talk to myself too much. I just like to relax.
Are you having a hard time relaxing with all the possibilities this spring?
It’s painful. It’s not nerve-racking, but there are definitely some nerves. I can’t lie that there is no nerve there. But this is more interesting. You see guys getting into the game and you can’t wait to get into it. So it’s hard to stay calm, but it’s not because I’m nervous, it’s not because I’m nervous, I definitely have those two feelings.
When you say excited, how would you describe your personality? Are you a naturally horny person?
As for baseball, yes. As for other things, I’m mostly laid back. Video games, hanging out with my friends, I play a lot of basketball in the offseason, so I’m pretty quiet about those things. When it comes to baseball, I’m a little concerned. This is different. That’s why I love it.
What was interesting – especially for fans – was the beginning of spring. In your first start in big league camp, you hit 430 feet against Johnny Cueto. What are you focusing on vibrationally right now?
Stay behind. I have to stay behind. Sometimes I get too tight at home plate and want to get the ball, but it’s good to be behind. I really need to focus on this and tell myself more about it.
Baseball is a game of adjustments. How would you rate your progress with this fix?
I mean, it’s still an ongoing process, I would say. So far I’m enjoying (the progress) and now I’m just trying to stay in the box. Sometimes, like in the previous game, I stood inside the box and jumped a little. It’s still a process and it’s not always perfect – I know that. But I think my progress so far is pretty good compared to when the camp started.
You also had to adjust to a completely new position. You’ve only been playing professionally on the field for a few months. How would you describe your achievements there?
Much better. When I got there, I was nervous and couldn’t read at all. Although the readings are not always good, they are much better than when we started in the middle of the season last year. Big credit to Willie McGee (Cardinal coaches), Jose Oquendo and the flyers I worked with at Double A also helped me get to where I am now.
What qualities do you think make you a good outfielder?
I’m probably a little faster than people think. Everyone thinks I’m going to win the race. The whole club thinks so. But I’m a lot faster than people think, and I also think I have a pretty good arm. I think if we put those two together and I work on my reads and my routes, I think I can be an elite outfielder.
Where would you like to see the most growth on defense?
Bed. Must read. This is where I really want to grow. I feel like if I can read the ball well, I can be the outfielder that I want to be.
What did you learn this spring that surprised you and how much it helped you?
I worked with Cheo (Oquendo) and (minor league) coach Roberto Espinoza in the backfield. They were telling me how to get down when I read the ball. Sometimes the ball bounces when you run because your head is moving. So if I go down a little bit and stay firmly in place, the ball doesn’t move as much, which makes it easier to control. From the beginning it was a little easier. It’s still not as easy for me as I’d like it to be, but it’s a lot better than when I started.
You have high expectations of yourself. The Cardinals organization also has high hopes. There’s also a significant amount of outside hype surrounding you, especially now that you’re approaching the big leagues. All of these expectations can often lead to pressure, which can be detrimental, especially when it comes to player development. How can you stay consistent while balancing external noise?
To be honest, I don’t like jumping on social media. I know there’s a lot going on there. I read a lot about this stuff with other players when I was younger. So I try not to jump too much, just because of the noise. But really, like I said before, I like to keep it simple, so I don’t like to worry too much about things.
I am sure. I’ve played this game long enough to know there are good days and bad days. There will be good times and bad times. You want the good streaks to last as long as possible, the bad streaks as short as possible, but they will happen. So I try not to worry too much about it, you know? I think if you get into your own mental space, you think too much, “How can I please this person?” then you really start to get confused. Just allow the good and bad chains to happen, try to shorten the bad chains and lengthen the good chains. It’s just a baseball game.
How long did it take you to implement this? Is it hard to maintain that mentality?
I’ve been thinking since high school. A lot of things in high school pushed me to play baseball. But since I’ve come out, I’ve learned that some of the best players sometimes have bad streaks. It happens to everyone. So I put that into perspective. It’s not always good. Sometimes you have bad days, bad weeks, so you can’t go ballistic when it happens, because it happens at some point. That’s what I’ve been telling myself since I left high school.
What gives you the confidence to succeed in the MLB?
I have always been confident. It’s not about overconfidence or arrogance or anything, but if you’re going to play this game, you’ve got to have confidence because if you don’t, the pitchers will get you. So you need to be a little more confident. I don’t know where it comes from, but I feel like I can compete with anyone in this game. I am sure to do it.
(Walker photo: Rhona Wise/USA Today)
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