THIS IS THE PROSPECT PREAMBLE.
Each post will feature these words, so feel free to skip accordingly. I offer the same always-standing apologies for the lackluster quality of my writing, as well as the stream of consciousness nature that I write with. I sincerely wish that I was better at writing than I am but, alas, here we are. Also, I'm very good at this as compared to most, but I am still VERY bad at it. Just think about that for a second, for context purposes.
I want to start off by reminding everyone that these posts are aided and enhanced by the works of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, Baseball America, and Prospects Live. Each embedded link will take you to their subscription pages and you should absolutely do that. Shout out to Geoff Pontes and Matt Thompson from Baseball America and Prospects Live, respectfully, because they're awesome. FanGraphs stats are OBVIOUSLY clutch and awesome, and that's why they are used in nearly every "Dirty" post. LOVE that FanGraphs.
Accordingly, @Cardinalsgifs provides his artistic touch to the pictures in each article, and I wouldn't do this at all if he wasn't a part of it. Special shoutout to @KareemSSN who is a must follow for Cardinals prospects stuff. His partner in crime is @Cardinalsreek and they have their own prospect list coming out soon!! Shoutout to Blake Newberry (@BT_Newberry) and Mr. Brian Walton (@B_Walton) for their work on their list over at The Cardinal Nation, too.
I also want to remind everyone that my list is different in that I don't include players with rookie eligibility that have made a Major League debut. So, you'll have to look elsewhere for Matthew Liberatore, Ivan Herrera, Alec Burleson, Nolan Gorman, Juan Yepez, Brendan Donovan, Jake Walsh, Andre Pallante, and ZacK Thompson. Some of these guys have exhausted their prospect status, anyway. I'm just trying to get ahead of this because I will 100% be asked about each. I did almost add 32-year-old Rule 5 draft selection Wilking Rodriguez to the list, but decided against it because he's 32-years-old, entering his age 33 season, and the coverage of him will surely be overly saturated by the time that Spring Training gets going. Also, I didn't add recently acquired Jose Fermín because I just don't care at all. I'm sure he'll make a Major League debut at some point in 2023 which will be cool but I just can't find it in me to care about it at all.
The last thing that I'd like to do is remind everyone that this is just a snap shot of THIS moment. I'm not 100% sure what every player on the list has worked on or has been doing this offseason. So, when I'm a little more conservative with a player like, say, Michael McGreevy, it's without the knowledge of what he's worked on this offseason, along with the gains that he's made in the areas that I'm concerned about. You never know when/if things are going to click for a player, and there's more reason now than ever before - with the advancements in modern baseball technologies - for a prospect to catapult themselves from out of nowhere. Vice versa, it's easier than ever for a prospect to fall off into obscurity.
Finally, I'd like to provide links to other sites that rank Cardinals' prospects. The Cardinal Nation, Prospects Live, and Baseball America all have their 2023 lists published, and MLB and FanGraphs will link to their most recent rankings from 2022:
KAREEM AND CARDINALS REEKS TOP 12
THIS HAS GONE ON TOO LONG. LET'S. GO.
OF Jordan Walker
Age 20, Turns 21 in May.
Drafted in the 1st Round of the 2020 Draft.
Listed at 6'5, 220. He's closer to 235-240
Jordan Walker is special. There's no deny it. There's no getting around it. There's no beating around the bush.
What we will find out in the coming years is just how special he is.
But I'm going to ask you to do me and him a favor. Pump the breaks just a weeeeeeeeeeeee bit.
I have no doubt that Jordan Walker would be OK if he ends up earning the chance to start the year in the Majors. I have no doubt that he's going to be good this spring, as well. However, I don't want to see the Cardinals rush him and I do believe that he still has work to do. In a lot of ways, he's at the Juan Yepez 2021 stage of his development: damage-via-contact and power when needed, but learning the outfield which is easier said than done.
With no disrespect to Juan Yepez, Jordan Walker is an entirely different beast. His quick and compact swing is designed for the gaps, but specifically and uniquely designed to do damage in the opposite field gap even against fastballs that jam him. This is the difference between his swing and everyone else's, as Walker crushes this pitch to the opposite field instead of getting lucky with placement. This is a beautiful thing to watch that is also an incredible sign of long-term impact. This, of course, says nothing for his batted-ball profile or his ability to turn on a pitch and to send it into orbit.
Speaking of the batted ball profile, there's a lot to get excited about. For you nerds out there, Walker's wOBA during the 2022 season was .387, his xwOBA was 356, and his xwOBAcon was .410. Speaking of Jordan Walker crushing balls, his average exit velocity was 90.9 MPH, and his 90th percentile exit velocity was 108 MPH, second on the farm behind only Eli Cabell. For context, Walker made contact 20% more of the time than Cabell did, and that's the difference between being a footnote on The Dirty50 and being the #1 prospect on it. To be as accurate as possible, the prospects that put up the consistent hard hit contact that Walker puts up are usually profile more along the lines of Cabell than they do someone like Jordan Walker. There are times when Walker can get a little over-aggressive while chasing after pitches, but his natural ability to hit the ball hard negates what otherwise might be weak contact for others. The evaluators that point to his chase rate are only looking at his numbers and not how he's doing what he's doing.
What I'm saying if I'm saying anything it's that at the plate, Walker is just so damn unique.
To see the control that Walker demonstrates of his body and his swing in the box is so impressive. This isn't some big kid that is lucking into hard contact. No, Walker is a controlled hitter in the box capable of doing what he needs to do to do real damage. He has a clear plan at the plate with levers and mechanisms designed for both growth and adjustment. At the age of 20, Walker is an adult at the plate.
I don't know where to put the criticisms in the article, so I'm just going to try and throw them in here. First, Walker has made great progress in the outfield after being thrust out there about midseason. However, he isn't there yet. This was clear at the end of his time in the AFL. THAT'S TOTALLY OK!!! HE'LL BE THERE SOON ENOUGH!! Just give him some time to grow and learn, for christ's sake. Transitioning to the outfield isn't as easy as you think it is. The way that the ball spins off of the bat at the top levels is WILD and the throwing assignments aren't as clear-cut as they are when you are just some asshole playing in high school, dummies.
Jordan Walker is eventually going to be pretty damn good in a corner. Just give him time to get there. By now, you know that he's shown a plus-plus arm in the outfield that helps to make up for questionable reads and routes (again, these will go away in time). I don't have anything to add to that or to say in addition, so I'm just going to abruptly end the sentence.
At the plate, the biggest area of concern that I have with Walker is how he's going to handle advanced sliders moving forward. To be frank, Walker does better than most age 22 and under kids do with these types of sliders. But it's still a hole in his swing. When he's in super-aggressive mode he'll look incredibly bad against them. The same goes for big curveballs. The good news is, not too many pitchers at AA - or even AAA for that matter - can throw the type of breaker that makes Walker look bad. He's adjusted to them some, but continued adjustment will be needed. There have been times in the past where Walker gets so upset at strike calls in the lowest part of the zone that it'll get the better of him for the rest of the game. These moments have become less and less frequent, and they probably are so infrequent now that it probably isn't worth spending much time on. I did just want to throw it out there.
Some evaluators will point to pitches up in the zone as an area of concern, but that's more stereotyping based on his size than it is really watching him at the plate. Heat high and outside does give him fits, but not like you'd think. He will need to continue to adjust and grow against that pitch.
The most fascinating thing about Walker in the box is how his power is going to continue to develop. It's exciting to KNOW that one day Walker is going to get so comfortable at the plate that his current 20-25 homer season over 600 plate appearances will turn into 30-40 homer seasons. Right now, because he's a little more defensive with his swing and because he opens up a little too early a little too often, he's just not there yet. He's defensive in part because of how challenged his minor league assignments have been. There will be a time - and it won't be long from now - when Walker realizes how good he is and turns on pitches that he doesn't turn on now.
The most underrated part of what Walker brings to a team is both his baseball I.Q. and his ability to run. First, Walker is an incredibly smart and instinctual baseball player. It comes through in every motion that he makes on the diamond. Second, while his running abilities are complicated, he's a very good and smart base runner. On the bases, Walker has put up some elite times to first out of the batter's box. The number could be described as "plus" speed. In the outfield, when he's able to go in a straight line, Walker has potentially "plus" speed. I wouldn't be surprised at all if we see a couple of seasons with double-digit steals early on in his career if the Cardinals are giving him the green light.
Where he gets weird is when he has to start moving around a little bit. He's what I would describe as "fine" going first to third or home to second, but when you add in an extra base - like going first to home - he really slows down and gets clunky. In the outfield, in part because he is still unfamiliar with the position, there's a lot of cutting and moving and stopping and going, and all of that slows him down quite a bit. That's a lot of body to haul around. The more bases or angles he has to take the more exponentially slower he becomes. This will only get worse over time. The good news is, he's worked hard this off-season and in past seasons to get better and better at the agility and base-to-base running aspect of the game. In addition, his smarts and instincts on the bases help his speed to play "up".
As we come to the end of both The Dirty50 and the Jordan Walker write-up, I just want to reemphasize how special and smart of a young man Jordan Walker is. His energy and his smile are both infectious, as is his desire and drive for greatness. Walker has the makings of a big-time player, too, as he always seems to rise to the tough moments. He was exposed a little by some advance pitchers in the AFL, but only by the slimmest margins. This speaks to just how close Walker is to being Major League ready.
I started this write-up by asking you to demonstrate patience in regards to Walker's impending Major League debut. It's coming and it's coming fast, and I have no doubt that nothing will stand in Jordan Walker's consistently hard-hitting way from making his debut sooner rather than later. It won't take him long to be a difference maker in the Cardinals lineup once he gets the chance to be. It's just a matter of how quickly he'll get to that point and what it'll look like when he gets there. If you listen to what the Cardinals' brass is saying as we enter spring training, it really sounds like he has the upper hand in an outfield battle. Just try to be cool about it if he struggles, OK?
Thanks For Reading!! Kyle Reis