By Rob Rains
On his first full day as a professional baseball player, Jordan Walker plans to take in all of the sights around St. Louis that his mom remembers from when she was in graduate school at Washington University several years ago.
After Walker does all of that on Wednesday, however, he has no idea what will happen next.
The Cardinals’ first-round pick in the draft earlier this month, Walker is now like all of the minor-league players who find themselves in limbo because of the coronavirus pandemic that has shut down the sport.
“To me what’s next is I am just staying ready,” Walker said. “They are going to help me with a workout plan for when baseball starts back up I should be ready to go. Basically that’s my mindset, maintaining weight and getting stronger for whenever the season starts.”
“I’m just ready to play. I’m just ready to be a Cardinal.”
His debut, however, is on indefinite hold and even John Mozeliak, the Cardinals’ president of baseball operations, said he really doesn’t know what the immediate future will be for Walker and the organization’s other young prospects.
“There still obviously is a lot of uncertainty,” Mozeliak said. “We are hopeful that at some point either this summer or fall we will have an opportunity to still have a development strategy for our younger players. We don’t know what that looks like yet but it certainly is something we are thinking about in the back of our minds. We don’t want this year to be a loss.”
The 18-year-old Walker, a power-hitting third baseman from Decatur, Ga., signed with the Cardinals on Tuesday for a reported $2.9 million bonus, about $200,000 less than the slot value for the 21st pick in the draft. He had been committed to Duke.
Even the process of Walker’s signing was unusual, however. Normally, the Cardinals bring in their top picks and let them take batting practice on the field or throw in the bullpen, take a tour of the clubhouse and meet with some of the major-league staff and players.
None of that happened on Tuesday, although Walker and his family did take a tour of the Cardinals Hall of Fame and Museum.
“There’s empathy for someone who is going through what Jordan has gone through (because of the coronavirus),” Mozeliak said. “You’re excited about your senior year; you’re excited about your senior baseball season and that gets cut short. There’s no prom, not your traditional graduation, and lo and behold you get drafted by a major-league club and the normalcy of that is just not there.
“They usually get to experience Busch Stadium and then they get to go and join a minor-league team. They are not going to get that experience this year. We still wanted to make today something special for him and something he will remember because there were a lot of things he didn’t get to experience.”
Walker said because of the uncertainty of a 2020 season it is even more important than normal for him to be diligent in his own personal workouts.
“I do really think that is the time I need to focus on training,” Walker said. “Just because we don’t know when we are going to be able to come back, if you do that, you will always be in the best position to start whenever we do start. Just prepare yourself the best you can for the unknown. When we do start you won’t be caught off guard.”
Walker said he and his family were still deciding how to celebrate his signing once they get back home to Georgia.
“My dad got a new grill for Father’s Day so maybe we will get something up on the grill,” he said. “That won’t be too bad.”
The Cardinals previously announced the signing of three other draft picks and also are believed to have agreements in place with their next two highest picks in the draft, high schoolers Masyn Winn and Tink Hence, and could announce both signings within the next few days.
Mozeliak also said during a zoom press conference announcing Walker’s signing that the Cardinals have some plans in place for the start of spring training 2.0 at Busch Stadium but that nothing will be official until he receives final instructions from the commissioner’s office.
He also said much needs to be done to be ready before players start to arrive, which is expected to be the middle of next week.
“When you are thinking about what’s to do, there is a long list of things we need to prepare for,” Mozeliak said. “Some of that is simply like how to space lockers, try to develop the timing of having players come in and come out. It’s just going to be very different from what we think of as normal.”
Mozeliak said he was not ready to announce a final list of players who will be invited to the major-league spring 2.0 camp, or those who will report to Springfield to be part of the taxi squad.
Teams are expected to be limited to 60 players combined between the two camps. There will be an expanded roster for the first month of games, Mozeliak said.
Mozeliak said he does hope that some of the organization’s top prospects will be included in the players who will either be brought to St. Louis before the start of the season, or go to Springfield.
“I would hope you would be able to inject some younger players,” he said.
Mozeliak said none of the players in the organization have tested positive for COVID-19, but he does know it has happened in other organizations which makes him wary of the future.
“Obviously this virus knows no boundaries,” he said. “The bubble we will try to create will be as good as we can do, but there is only so much we can control.”
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