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‘More work to be done’: Cardinals prospect Jordan Walker continuing to hone outfield skills

There are a few different ways Jordan Walker could describe his time at the Arizona Fall League.

Words like “fun” and “joy” come to mind for the 20-year-old Cardinals prospect when he reflects on the time he and seven of his organization mates spent playing with and against some of the top prospects in baseball.

It provided a look at some quality pitching that he hadn’t seen all year and created one of his most memorable moments this season when he got to face fellow Cardinals prospect Tink Hence for an at-bat during the league’s annual Fall Stars Game.

“Facing a Cardinals prospect, man,” said Walker, who flew out to the warning track against Hence. “It was really fun. I said some words to him before that at-bat. It’s just a fun setting. The outcome wasn’t what I was focusing on — it was just the joy of being able to face Tink. I had never faced him before. I wouldn’t have it any other way than facing him in a setting like that one.”

For a player like Walker who batted .286, hit five homers, and finished with a .925 OPS in 21 games in a league referred to as a “finishing school” for prospects, there was one aspect that he could label as a challenge.

“Definitely the outfield,” he said.

“That’s what I really feel like out of all the all parts of my game, I’m least comfortable with — my outfield work right now,” Walker said.

Cardinals non-roster infielder Jordan Walker throws during individual defensive drills on the third day of team workouts on Wednesday, March 16, 2022, at the Cardinals' spring training facility in Jupiter, Fla.

Cardinals non-roster infielder Jordan Walker throws during individual defensive drills on the third day of team workouts on Wednesday, March 16, 2022, at the Cardinals’ spring training facility in Jupiter, Fla.

Becoming more familiar in his new position is something that was a work in progress during the second half of the season for Walker. When it comes to this offseason, it’s something he’s looking to focus on while in his home state of Georgia.

After taking some time off following the conclusion of the Arizona Fall League, Walker, who is listed at 6-foot-5 and has increased his weight to around 250 pounds, is on a training program set by the Cardinals. He works out three to four times a week. His training sessions include some weightlifting in the morning, then throwing and hitting sessions with a friend of his during the afternoons.

When he’s not training, he enjoys time with family and friends and catches up on TV shows like “All American.”

“I want to keep it as low-key as possible,” Walker said of his offseason.

In the recent week, he’s made a new addition to his offseason regimen.

With the help of one of his former high school coaches, Walker is spending this offseason improving his fielding with the use of a “FungoMan” — a machine designed like a pitching machine but engineered to spit out game-like ground balls, fly balls and line drives to work on defense.

The goal, Walker said, is to use the “FungoMan” to improve his ability to read fly balls.

The work will be a continuation of what Walker felt like he was able to do during the fall league. Along with getting at-bats against top pitching, Walker’s time with the Salt River Rafters — the team Cardinals, Rockies, Tigers, Blue Jays and Diamondbacks prospects were assigned to — also gave him innings to continue working at a becoming a full-time outfielder after he made the positional switch from third base once Major League Baseball’s Aug. 2 trade deadline passed.

In 167 innings in the outfield during the AFL, Walker committed one error on 43 chances and notched an assist. He had committed one error on 61 chances across 249 innings in the outfield during the regular season with Springfield.

“It’s a challenge for me switching over there,” Walker said. “I’m getting better, or I got a lot better in the fall league. I think improving the outfield was really the biggest thing.”

Becoming teammates with players from different organizations allowed Walker to use his peers as resources. He took some advice on playing the outfield from Detroit prospect Parker Meadows and from a familiar face in Cardinals outfield prospect Mike Antico, whom Walker spent part of the Class AA season with once Antico was promoted from Class High-A Peoria to Springfield at the start of July.

Antico, 24, was ranked by Baseball America, as the best defensive outfielder in the Cardinals farm system heading into 2023. He is someone Walker credited for helping him get more familiar with his reads this season and has been a resource for him dating back to the start of his defensive switch.

While in Springfield, Antico was able to help Walker with fielding line drives hit right at him, and the two worked on tracking fly balls during batting practice. That created a competition between the two to see who could haul more in.

“Me and Jordan are great friends,” Antico said. “Of course, once he started to make the transition, I was going to be there to help him. He’s a great athlete. It isn’t too hard for him to jump out there and, you know, track balls down. He’s got an unbelievable arm. The base of what he needed was already there, just being a great athlete out there.”

The foundation provided by Walker’s skill set to transition to the outfield could help him this spring. He’ll arrive to spring training with an opportunity to win a spot on the Cardinals’ opening day roster.

But for now, the switch continues to be a work in progress.

“There’s definitely still a lot more work to be done so I can become that Gold Glove outfielder that I want to be,” Walker said. “I’m actually really comfortable out there right now, and I feel like I can be a key role out there.”

Daniel Guerrero

@TheDanGuerrero on Twitter

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