Last night with the 21st pick, the St. Louis Cardinals drafted Jordan Walker, a prep third baseman out of Georgia.
You can find his vitals from Josey Curtis here: Cardinals Draft Third Baseman Jordan Walker 21st Overall
And some insta-reaction from A.E. Schafer here: Writer REACTS to Night One of the Cardinals’ Draft!
With the essentials and scouting reports out of the way, let’s start looking for comps. Considering Walker’s skillset, position, physique, and projections, what might he look like if he reaches his ceiling as a major leaguer?
I think the first place to start looking is height and position. Walker was selected as a third baseman and after the draft Randy Flores, Cardinals Assistant General Manager and Director of Scouting, asserted his belief that Walker will be able to stay “on the dirt”. Walker is listed at 6’5” and a solid 220 pounds, with a frame that looks lean and athletic.
Talking heads on both ESPN and MLB immediately scoured their player databases looking for tall, lanky hitters with power. Comps like Derek Lee and Jermaine Dye were quickly mentioned. Both were tall African-American hitters with significant power and the ability to draw some walks. They are not bad comps (particularly Dye) from the perspective of offensive ceiling but neither were third basemen.
Isn’t there someone who plays the position that would match Walker’s physique and power potential?
I started with height. I dug through MLB rosters searching for players who were listed at 6’5” or taller. Here’s the list of active players who fit that criteria, sorted by position group:
Corner OF: Jason Heyward, Franmil Reyes, Domingo Santana, Sam Hilliard, Victor Reyes, Aaron Judge (6’7”), Giancarlo Stanton (6’6”), Gregory Polanco, Joey Gallo
1b: Freddie Freeman, Garrett Cooper, Matt Olson, Ronald Guzman
DH: Jose Martinez, Yordan Alvarez
CF: Dexter Fowler
C: Matt Wieters
3b: Kris Bryant
From an offensive perspective, there are some mighty fine players in that list and only a few who aren’t significant producers. That is an encouraging sign for Walker. Tall players who make it to the majors tend to produce.
It does make me wonder, however, about the fail rate of taller players. Batters of that height are grouped almost exclusively at corner outfield and first. Only Fowler, Wieters, and Bryant are listed at another position.
To make it to the major leagues exclusively as a corner outfielder or first baseman, the offensive floor is very high. Part of the reason there are so few players in the majors at 6’5” or higher is that their historic lack of positional flexibility weeds out all but the most talented.
A 6’5” player who can only handle first and some corner outfield and is decent or below with his bat is going to get bumped by a player with the same bat but more positional flexibility.
In other words, Walker is going to have to either stick at 3b – and there’s every reason to believe he can and will. Or he’s really going to have to hit. Good thing offensive upside is the primary reason the Cardinals drafted him.
There’s a list of physical comps to sort through. Let’s focus now on positional comps. Since Kris Bryant is the only active third baseman of Walker’s height and is not a great comp for Walker from a prospect/draft/career-arc perspective, let’s go back a little further. How about 20 years? The always helpful Tango Tiger of MLB Analytics provided me with a list of third baseman over the last 20 years who were 77” or taller.
That list includes five players who played any amount of third in the major leagues. From these five players, we have two comps I want to focus on – one cautionary tale and one that is extremely optimistic.
Joel Guzman: A Cautionary Tale
Joel Guzman was signed by the Dodgers out of the Dominican as an amateur free agent for $2.25M, which set a franchise record at the time. Guzman flashed some power in the minors but struggled with K’s and only a decent walk rate. Here are his slash lines from age 18 until he reached the majors at age 21:
Age 18, A/A+: .241/.271/.387
Age 19, A+/AA: .297/.341/.540
Age 20, AA: .287/.351/.475
Age 21, AAA: .274/.327/.447
That earned him a cup of coffee with the Dodgers. From there forward, Guzman’s contact ability tanked. He maintained his power stroke but didn’t cross a 750 OPS in the minors again until age 24. By then, he had aged out of his prospect status and entered journeyman territory.
There’s your cautionary tale. The failure rate of prospects is still quite high. It’s a rare thing for very young players like Guzman and Jordan Walker to reach their hoped-for upside.
Troy Glaus: For the Crazy Optimists
On the other side of the spectrum is Troy Glaus. Glaus was drafted in the first round, #3 overall in 1997. He had huge talent and was expected to move rapidly through the minors. He reached the majors in ’98 after just 109 games in AA and AAA. In ’99 he started 154 games for the Angels and hit 29 HRs with an 11.3 BB%. He had 2.4 WAR as a 21-year-old.
The next season Glaus has one of the best seasons by a third baseman in major league history. He had 8.2 WAR, 47 HRs, a 16.5 BB%, and a 150 wRC+. That would prove to be Glaus’ peak. In his career, Glaus had 320 HRs and 34.3 WAR, including a two-year stint with the Cardinals.
Using Glaus as a comp is a mixed bag. Walker was drafted 21st overall but analysts seem to agree that his talent level fits better in the late first or early second rounds. He’s a prep draftee. Glaus was highly sought after as a prep player from Carlsbad, CA, and was even drafted in the second round of the ’94 draft by the Padres. Glaus opted to got to UCLA, however, and did nothing to hurt his standing. When the Angels drafted him, he was a major-league ready player with superstar projections.
Is it fair at all to compare a developmental prep player like Walker to a super-prospect like Glaus? No, it really isn’t.
At the same time, I can see some similarities between Glaus and Walker. Our own A.E. Schafer felt the same way, citing Glaus as a comp in his draft preview.
I’ll post the same video that Schafer did. Watch Walker’s swing. Am I alone in seeing some Troy Glaus there? The tall, upright stance? The similar leg kick? The path of the bat through the zone?
I couldn’t find the same type of angle for Glaus, but here he is cracking two home runs in the 2002 World Series during his age 25 season.
There are some similarities. Maybe Walk won’t hit 47 homers as a 23-year-old. But he has the tools to develop significant power, draw walks, and maintain a solid-to-good glove at the hot corner, despite being one of the taller players in history at that position.
There we go. Maybe Walker is Joel Guzman. Maybe he’s Troy Glaus. Maybe we split the difference a little and say he’s the answer to the question “what if Jermaine Dye had played third base?”