It seemed like just yesterday that the entire baseball world was drooling over Jordan Walker, as the consensus top-five prospect put together jaw-dropping highlight after jaw-dropping highlight at St. Louis Cardinals Spring Training.
We’ve all been focused on the WBC, but don’t forget about Spring Training!— Just Baseball (@JustBB_Media) March 17, 2023
Jordan Walker is raking this spring and doubles at 115.9 MPH here. Leads the league in hits AND extra-base hits! pic.twitter.com/KN7WGncWmi
Built like a linebacker at 6’6, 245 pounds but with speed and bat control to spare, it seemed like there wasn’t anything Walker couldn’t do on the diamond. But as we’ve learned time and again, baseball is a humbling game, and just a few weeks after his MLB career began Walker is now headed back down to Triple-A:
OF Jordan Walker has been optioned to Memphis (AAA).— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) April 26, 2023
INF Taylor Motter cleared waivers and has been signed to a Major League free agent contract. pic.twitter.com/5BggQMZA1J
Walker started strong, with a hit in each of his first 12 games. But he posted an OPS of just .650 after his first week, with a ground ball rate north of 60 percent and a whiff rate that ranked eighth-worst in baseball — along with some gaffes in right field as the 20-year-old adjusted to a new position in a new league. None of it was too alarming, the normal sorts of growing pains all but the most generational prospects go through. But with the Cardinals in a prolonged slump on offense and several outfield candidates competing for just three spots, Walker — and his remaining Minor League options — was the obvious odd man out.
Walker’s future is still very, very bright; this is more a numbers game than anything, as St. Louis looks for a spark while still wanting to get Walker regular playing time. Lars Nootbaar, Tyler O’Neill, Dylan Carlson and Alec Burleson all demand at-bats, while Nolan Gorman continues to crush the ball as the DH, and the team didn’t feel like it could afford to wait out Walker’s struggles. Still, while those struggles were real — and even present in the spring, when he struck out 15 times with just two walks — fantasy owners who spent big on Walker in drafts shouldn’t panic. The long-term outlook hasn’t changed, even if we’d like Walker to be working out these issues with the big-league club.