WELCOME TO THE DIRTY FLIRTY.
These are my top 40 prospects in The Cardinals organization, aside from the players that I’ve already covered in The Dirty Annexes. This little ditty here is the preface to all of the post in our Dirty series. So, if you’ve read this once then you don’t need to read it again!
A warning to those looking for Lars Nootbaar, Scott Hurst, Junior Fernandez, Johan Oviedo, Jake Woodford, Edmundo Sosa, and anyone aside from Angel Rondon that has already made a major league debut: That’s not really my bailiwick, as I’m sure you’ve heard enough about those guys from more qualified outlets already. Most of those guys have exhausted their prospect status, anyway.
A reminder that this is an exercise in futility, ranking prospects. It’s a landscape that is ever-changing and developing. We are almost always talking about kids that are just starting to understand both themselves and their bodies, while learning the most difficult and nuanced sport in the land. You never know when someone is going to start doing 200 pushups per day on their way to postseason glory.
I ask for your thoughts and feedback. I ask that you have fun. I ask that you remember that I’m a moron. Most importantly, I ask that you take all of the prospect rankings from every outlet in the spirit of what they are: a snapshot of that moment, with a bent towards understanding what might come.
#1(B): 3B Jordan Walker
19 Years Old
Drafted in the 1st round of the 2020 draft
Peoria and Palm Beach
As someone that likes to consider himself a coward, I’m here to state proudly that I have taken the easy way out!! Hooray to prospects 1(A) and 1(B)!!!!
How cool was it to watch Jordan Walker rises so quickly up the national rankings?! I know that I enjoyed it!! I also know that I am really thankful for the Palm Beach Cardinals’ twitter feed for supplying us with footage and data of Walker’s destruction of Low-A. I need them to continue to do this at a more aggressive clip moving forward, but beggars etc., choosers etc.
There are few players at ANY LEVEL of the minors that hit the ball as consistently hard as Jordan Walker did in 2021. He was putting up professional exit velocities, and on a regular basis, maxing out at just a little over 116 MPH. He is obviously a big kid, but he isn’t sludgy at all at the plate. He uses his tremendous athleticism and size to leverage his swing, and he uses his quick hands and bat to throttle through the zone. While each and every movement in Walker’s swing is powerful, it is somehow also graceful. He's delightfully quiet at the plate, too.
Nolan Gorman’s bat took Cardinals Nation by storm during his first full season in the minors in 2019, but that pales in comparison to what Walker did with his bat in 2021. In 2019, most on the national stage were worried about Gorman’s strikeout tendency, but nearly everyone also considered him a power prodigy and the clear cut best hitting prospect in the organization. Well, every single one of Walker’s rates were better than Gorman’s at the same levels, and most of those were substantially better. Better strikeout rate. Better walk rate. Better home runs per at-bat. Better doubles per at-bat. More stolen bases. Everything about what Jordan Walker did at the plate in his first full season in the minors is better as a "full sample" than what any other Cardinals teenage prospect has done in my prospect-following life. Put simply, Walker is as complete and dangerous of hitter in his teenage years at the minor league level as the Cardinals have had in nearly 20 years.
Now, this set up brings up names of future Hall of Famers, Top 5 prospects on the national stage, and perennial all-stars. It evokes transformative talents from the near-past, and on a historical level. I WILL NOT BE PLAYING THAT GAME HERE. If you are the type of person that wants to start to compare Walker to some of those “NAMES THAT I WILL NOT MENTION” then go find some sports talk radio program to host. They need your hot takes so that the masses can have their boring talking points, all while stirring up those advertising dollars. I’m not interested in any of that. I’m interested, for the most part, in Walker as a stand-alone baseball player and human being.
Speaking of Jordan Walker as a human being, the foundation of this young man is built on high-class character. Walker is gifted with intelligence on a scholastic level, and a baseball IQ that is somehow higher than that. He’s a dedicated worker that loves the game. Walker is the exact type of kid that will squeeze out every little bit of potential in his quest to be a player that everyone will be talking about. He keeps the clubhouse loose and he always has a smile on his face unless it's business time. He comes from an awesome family, too.
One of the few complaints that I have about Walker is that he is going to need to continue to work through the frustration that he feels when a terrible minor league umpire has a terrible strike zone. He didn’t have to worry about this so much with the automated strike zone in Palm Beach, but there were a couple of instances in which he only made the strike zone worse for himself by wearing his passion/frustrations on his sleeve and egging on the fragile ego of the A+ umpires. I don't have his reaction in the gif below, but he was very animated with his head shaking and it just made the umpire turn the borderline pitches into strikes.
This will be less and less of a worry as he climbs the ladder, but it’s something he needs to work on. Nothing is wrong with being frustrated or showing your frustrations, but being demonstrative about it will never help him, especially in the minors.
As I’ve already mentioned that Walker wears his passion on his sleeve and that he loves to play the game, I also must mention how much fun it is to watch him and Masyn Winn line the left side of the infield together. The two are clearly close friends, and they push each other. They drive each other to be as good as they can possibly be. I talked about it in Winn’s write-up, but Walker seemed to reach another level in his development when Winn was promoted to Peoria a month after Walker. It was fun to watch Walker field a ball and throw a laser on the mark to the first baseman, then look over at Winn and have a fun exchange. Just two friends and competitors’ shit-talking like buddies do. The same thing happened around the bases and at the plate. I made a point to say that Winn brought out the best in Walker, but Walker also brings out the best in Winn. I look forward to the day that we will hopefully get to see it in the majors.
Speaking of Walker in the field, he was better there during the 2021 season than I thought he would be. He still has a lot of work to do, but I think that he has a chance to stay at third for a while. I don’t think that he is where Nolan Gorman was at the same age/point in his career, and I don’t think that he’s particularly close to that either. You’ll remember that I also had a higher grade on Gorman’s defense than others did (until word started to spread, of course. Then they all started to talk about it…), so my view on this is different than others. I’m not saying that Walker is out of shape or lacking in athleticism in the field or anything like that with my next comment, but Walker is still growing into his body, and you can see that in his movements. He definitely got bigger and stronger between being drafted and his Palm Beach debut, and I have no doubt that he'll continue to grow into his body. He makes some rather astonishing plays, and he can really show off his well above average arm when needed, but he can also be kind of clunky over there for long stretches of time.
If I were asked now, I'd say that he doesn't stick there based on how he looked at the end of the season, but I think that he has the work ethic and drive to "will" himself to more consistent success. If this is something that you are worrying about right now, I’d kindly like to ask you to fuck all the way off. He’s 19 years old. He’s getting better every day. He just finished his first full minor league season. Give him time. I definitely wouldn't bet against him. It won’t take him long to get to where he needs to be. If not, I have no doubt that there is above-average defensive potential/likelihood if he ends up moving to first or a corner outfield position. We aren’t there yet, and we’ll get there when the bat forces the conversation.
And please give up the "he could be DH" about any kid that isn't entering the lower half of the mid-20's. You're better than that.
Early on during his time at Peoria, Walker was susceptible to swinging at big, loopy breaking pitches in the lower fourth of the strike zone or in/near the dirt. One of the big notes that I wrote to myself 12 games into his time at Peoria was that he needed to learn how to back off of that pitch, but that it was totally normal to see this type of prospect - young with swing and miss tendencies - swing at it with futility. I assumed that this would be a through line of his time at Peoria, as he adjusted at the same somewhat sluggish pace that nearly every teenager does at this advanced level. It was also about this time that Walker stopped swinging at this pitch and continued to make me look like a Jackass for being critical of it. He still gets a little swing happy at that pitch and the high-hard-cheese, but I learned in those 244 Peoria plate appearances that Walker adjusted QUICKLY.
While most might have Walker as an average or below average runner, I think that he is at least average, but above average when it’s time to get after it. I’ve seen Walker go first to third on groundballs to outfielders that would keep a lesser prospect at second. I’ve seen him turn singles into doubles in the same circumstances. I’ve also watched him steal 13 of 15 bases at Peoria on his way to 14 steals in 16 attempts on the season. No, Walker is not a burner. But what he doesn’t have in "track star speed" he makes up in running smarts and a quick jump. Walker knows the situation. He knows when to go and he knows what he can get away with. I love the high IQ guys.
To end this, I want to come back around to Walker’s power and how special it is. Walker doesn’t sell-out on every swing, but that doesn’t stop him from obliterating baseball on the daily. His power is so comfortable and easy, and he can put it over any part of the fence. You might assume that a prospect with this type of power and ability to jolt and drive the baseball would be pull-first. You’d be correct in most circumstances, but not with Walker. While the kid can unload on a ball that he pulls, the true beauty of his swing is in how he can do damage to the right field gap without changing his mechanics. Sometimes it’s a bloop single, other times it’s a rope to the gap, and sometimes it’s even a 425-foot bomb. Power might be this show’s headliner, but his hit tool is the opening act. A good one at that, too.
Walker is one of only four qualified Cardinals prospects that hit for an OPS above .800 against both lefties and righties during the 2021 season. He’s only 19 years old. It’s crazy. It doesn’t make any sense. His OPS against lefties on the season was 1.301 and that is hahaahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahhaa HA. I’m always a little conservative with younger prospects as most of you know, but I’d love to see what this kid could do in a major league series against three starting left-handed pitchers. I don’t want this to happen necessarily, but I’d love to see it. Walker still has some work to do against right-handers, but not as much as you’d think. He’ll need to continue to refine his approach against them, but his 291/364/477 line against righties in 291 plate appearances will work just fine. He strikeout rate against righties of 25.4% is where most of his striking out happens, but I don’t really care about that at all if he’s continuing to do the damage that he did during the 2021 season.
Jordan Walker has every claim to the throne as my number one prospect on The Dirty. I see a few areas that need improvement, specifically defensively, and that’s all that is holding him back from taking the top spot on the list for his own. His bat is LOUD in every way, and his personality and drive are equally as powerful. Walker is everything that you want out of a bat in your organization. While I won’t get caught up in how Walker’s minor league tenure thus far compares to some of the greats that have come through the system – because that is so fucking stupid and unfair – what I will say is that Walker has every chance to be on the level of those greats. He’s certainly on that path.
As I just take a screenshot straight from their website, I can’t begin to stress loudly enough the important role that FanGraphs plays in the statistical side of what I do with these write-ups. Please subscribe to their service BY CLICKING THIS LINK.
A shout out to THE PALM BEACH CARDINALS for keeping us informed all season long when video and data was scarce to us regular people.
In addition, you all know how important and valuable @cardinalsgifs is to the pictures that fire up these articles. He’s helped with some of the gifs along the lines, too. I wouldn’t do the write-ups if it weren’t for him.
Thank For Reading!!