By Rob Rains
With any player who is selected as a power-hitter in the first round of the draft, there has to be a story about a long home run.
For Jordan Walker, drafted by the Cardinals on Wednesday night as the 21st overall pick in the draft, that home run came years ago, when he was playing in tee ball.
The legend, which Walker did not dispute in a zoom call with St. Louis media, was that the home run broke a window in his grandmother’s car, parked well beyond the outfield fence.
Walker’s father, Derek, said he has the video to prove it.
“Everybody was surprised; I was surprised,” Walker said. “It was pretty cool.”
In a story from last summer’s All-American Game, Derek Walker said, “The story grows. I don’t think it quite hit [the car], but it was in the parking lot. They had the fence and then the grassy knoll and then up on the hill to the parking lot. The ball literally went out and bounced into the parking lot as it first touched down.
“I think that was probably the first time where I said, ‘Wow, this kid has a lot of power.’ That was a fun day.”
Walker, who just turned 18, has hit a lot of home runs since, earning a ranking from Perfect Game as the second-best high school prospect in this year’s draft class.
A third baseman from Decatur, Ga., Walker is 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, and has earned comparisons to the Cubs’ Kris Bryant.
“It’s a pick our scouts are excited about, the front office is excited about and I know Mr. Walker is excited about,” said Randy Flores, the Cardinals’ assistant general manager and scouting director. “We can’t wait for him to get to work in our development system.”
Flores said he believes Walker can stay at third base, even though the organization’s top prospect, Nolan Gorman, also plays that position.
The Cardinals saw a lot of Walker last summer on the showcase circuit, and he also was able to play 16 games this spring before his season was shut down, posting a .457 average with four home runs. Last year as a junior he hit .519 with 17 homers.
“If you asked all of the scouts who saw him what impressed them, they might say a different thing because those looks were spread out over a period of time,” Flores said.
The Cardinals’ area scout in Georgia, Charles Peterson, had significant contact with him, Walker said, leaving him with the opinion that he could be selected by the team.
“You look at a player like Jordan Walker and Randy and I were discussing this multiple times throughout the day, you don’t always get these opportunities,” said John Mozeliak, president of baseball operations. “He’s someone that we believe has a very high ceiling, the type of athleticism that we feel will fit in well with our system.
“Most importantly he is a high character young man, someone who is very driven. He’s ambitious and will be a great fit for the Cardinals.”
Walker also has excelled in the classroom, earning a 3.98 GPA and a scholarship to Duke. His father, Derek, is a graduate of MIT and works for a computer software company while his mother, Katrina, earned her undergraduate degree at Harvard and a masters from Washington University in St. Louis. She is a teacher at the same high school Walker attended.
Walker is expected to sign with the Cardinals and pursue his college degree at a later time.
“Jordan’s dream is to play baseball,” Derek Walker said. “Now he’s able to chase his dream.”
When he can begin that career is a question neither Walker or the Cardinals can answer right now, considering the game still does not have a plan for getting minor leaguers onto the field this summer or even into the fall.
Until then, Walker said he will continue working out near his home – until the Cardinals give him more information, including hitting off pitchers heading to college in the fall.
“I’m beyond excited. I’m ready,” Walker said. “I can’t describe how excited I am. I was jumping for joy. I can’t wait to play in the organization … I really do love this game.”
Going into the draft, the Cardinals had high rankings on several high school hitters, including Walker, that they were considering for their first selection. The depth of this draft is generally considered to be in the college pitching ranks, and the Cardinals believe that will allow them to choose from that pool of players during the second day of the draft on Thursday.
The Cardinals have six selections remaining, starting with their second round pick, through the end of the draft after round five.
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains