I have to admit, Jordan Walker wasn’t really on my radar for the Cards’ first round pick. Not because I didn’t think he was good enough for that spot, and not because I don’t think he’s a Cardinals’ kind of draft pick, but because I just thought there would be other players the club preferred, specifically guys who would move faster, or be safer bets, or, yes, fit the profile of what the organisation generally has preferred in the past better.
Here’s my scouting report on Walker, from just a few days ago; very little has changed in my opinion of the player since then. I will, however, emphasize a point I’m not sure came across in my report, which is just how smart this kid is, and how mature his approach to the game is. I have concerns about swing and miss with Walker, but he’s already a very patient hitter, which helps to mitigate those concerns somewhat, and if there’s a high school hitter in this draft better suited to taking advantage of all the latest advancements in training and player development technology, I don’t know who it would be.
So here’s what the Cardinals are betting on: Walker is a physical specimen, with some of the most impressive natural strength and leverage in his swing of any hitter in the draft. He’s also one of the smartest hitters, with overall makeup that seems to be top of the class. They’re betting the mental side will lead him to be able to make adjustments and improvements to make the most of his physical tools. In a way, this pick reminds me a bit of Paul DeJong, in that DeJong’s obvious intelligence is a big part of his game and makes him better. Walker is also very young, one of the younger hitters in the draft (he just turned eighteen a couple weeks ago), and the Cardinals have very clearly made that a point of emphasis the last several years. Age relative to class was a factor with Nolan Gorman, Dylan Carlson, and Delvin Perez, not to mention several college players who crept in at 20 or just barely 21. Walker isn’t as absurdly young for his demographic as those other guys, but he’s still quite young relative to his peers, most of whom will turn nineteen within this calendar year.
With the good stuff being said, Walker probably would not have been my choice at this spot. Not with Nick Bitsko still on the board, having slid well past where his talent should have dictated. I would have gone that direction, or picked my alternate from my draft board in Carmen Mlodzinski, Bryce Jarvis being off the board already. However, I do like this pick, if for no other reason than it’s bold, and aggressive, and very clearly shows the Cardinals had a strong feeling about this particular player. Twenty one might have been a little early for Walker (but maybe not), but there was absolutely no way the Cards were going to have a shot at him all the way down at 54. I wonder, if they had had their original competitive balance pick in round A, rather than B (they swapped picks with Tampa as part of the Matthew Liberatore/Randy Arozarena deal), would they have gone a different direction and tried to wait on Walker? They might have had a shot at him with pick 37, but definitely not pick 54.
I really expected the Cardinals to go for a solid value with a high chance of paying off with their first pick, then shoot for the moon with one or two of that cluster of picks they have from 54-70. Instead, they clearly targeted a player they believe in heavily and did what they had to do to make sure he wasn’t drafted by anyone else.
Overall, it was a really interesting first round/first day. The Orioles did something crazy with pick two, so it’s not as if we had to wait long for weird shit to pop up. (I am not at all a fan of the Kjerstad pick, by the way; it’s too clever by half for me, and I think Kjerstad is too one-dimensional a player to justify being drafted anywhere near that high. I didn’t even like him in the top 10-15, honestly.) The Red Sox did something equally crazy, arguably even crazier, and while I really like Nick Yorke, there is no way in the world he should have come off the board in the middle of the first round. I think the Pirates had maybe the best day one of the draft overall, grabbing one of the best hitters in the first round and a pitcher with real frontline potential in the comp. balance round. The White Sox are trying very, very hard to redo the Chris Sale draft. The early part of the draft was just as college heavy as I think most of us expected, And the Cubs broke my heart. Goodnight, sweet prince.
I assume at this point the Cardinals will have to go a little more conservative with these next three picks than I expected, simply because they went for a tougher sign with their first selection. I don’t know Walker’s bonus demands, but I have to believe it will take at least slot, and maybe a little more, to buy him out of his commitment to Duke. Of the three picks the Cards have in the 54-70 range, I’ll bet that at least two turn out to be college pitchers.