Cardinals Select Jordan Walker in 2020 MLB Draft’s First Round

photo: Jordan Walker (Baseball Factory)

By Blake Newberry and Brian Walton

The first round of the much-shortened 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player draft was held on Wednesday evening, June 10. The original event of 40 rounds was scheduled to be held over three days in conjunction with the College World Series in Omaha. However, in a year with intense financial pressures on teams, ownership opted to reduce this draft to just five rounds, conducted online on Wednesday and Thursday.

By virtue of their 2019 success, the St. Louis Cardinals received the 21st overall selection in the 2020 draft, which was announced Wednesday evening.

That selection was Georgia high school third baseman Jordan Walker.

The organization’s final six picks will be made on Thursday, starting at 4:00 p.m. Central time. No other team in this draft has more than St. Louis’ total of seven selections.

St. Louis received two additional picks following the second round. One was a Competitive Balance Selection and the other was received in compensation for free agent Marcell Ozuna leaving as a free agent. (For completeness, the Ozuna pick follows the first round (no. 37 overall), but was sent to Tampa Bay as part of the Matthew Liberatore trade, with St. Louis also receiving the Rays’ no. 63 overall selection in return.)

To spend on signing bonuses for the seven players they take in this draft, St. Louis has a pool allotment of $7,901,100, a total which they can exceed by up to five percent if they choose (this is a correction). They can also move money among their seven picks if they so choose. The slot value for the no. 21 overall pick is $3,132,300.

A special expense deferral will be implemented this year. Draft picks will receive no more than $100,000 of their signing bonus in 2020, with the remainder split between 2021 and 2022. Also, all slot values across the draft were held constant from 2019.

With no minor league season expected in 2020, the newest Cardinals will not play in official game action until 2021.

To reference the Cardinals’ new draft class on an ongoing basis, each player will have a profile located on a holding team called “DRAFT UNSIGNED PLAYERS”. This can be accessed at the bottom of the drop-down menu in the red column in the left menu called “ROSTERS/PLAYERS/MOVES” or click here.

St. Louis’ selections – 2020 Draft day 1

First round, 21st overall

3B Jordan Walker
Decatur High School, Georgia
6’5, 220 pounds
Bats; Right
Throws: Right

Jordan Walker

The first thing that stands out about Jordan Walker is his massive size. His 6’5”, 220 pound frame gives him the potential for plenty of power in the professional ranks. However, like most high school hitters, and especially power-focused ones, Walker does have a swing-and-miss tendency at the plate.

This pick is somewhat reminiscent of the Nolan Gorman selection as both players are power hitting third basemen drafted out of the high school ranks.  Walker just turned 18 in May. Additionally, this pick follows the Cardinals recent trend of drafting high upside high school hitters with their first pick, as the team has drafted Nick Plummer (2015), Delvin Perez (2016), and Gorman (2018) with three of its last four first round picks.

Largely due to Walker’s size, scouts are worried that he may be limited to first base or a corner outfield position. However, Perfect Game clocked him at a 6.56 second 60-yard dash which is solid for his size and may demonstrate enough overall athleticism to stay at the hot corner. PG had Walker as their no. 2 high school player in this draft. MLB Pipeline ranked him no. 33 among all draft-eligibles.

Additionally, Walker has plenty of arm strength for the position as he pitched in high school and threw a fastball that sat around 93 miles per hour. All of this seems to point towards third base being his long-term home, although he could shift to right field with his arm strength if the Cardinals need him to, especially considering that Nolan Gorman is ahead of him.

At the plate, Walker has easy raw power due to his massive size, and the Cardinals clearly are hoping that they can refine his approach at the plate and cut down on some of his swing-and-miss tendencies. However, despite these tendencies, when he hits the ball, he hits it with authority as he has flashed an exit velocity that can reach 100 miles per hour and above. The Cardinals will hope that their player development system can iron out any issues with Walker’s swing and approach that prevent his plus raw power from showing. However, he does have plenty of size and physical gifts that cannot be taught.

The early parts of the first round included plenty of college players  selected, due in part to the difficulties of scouting high school players amid the pandemic due to their lack of a track record. However, Walker was able to receive a good amount of exposure to scouts at showcases and other scouting events early in the year.

Additionally, he raked in his senior season of high school as he hit four home runs while batting .458 in just eight games, after playing in MLB’s Prospect Development Pipeline League last summer, where he was third in the league with five RBIs.

Jordan Walker (MLB Prospect Development Pipeline League)

Overall, Walker is a bit of a risky prospect with his youth and propensity to swing and miss. However, he has the potential for plenty of power, and may even become an above average fielder despite not receiving too much credit on that area of his game. Also, if he can even be an average hitter at the plate, then he should have more than enough power to turn into a productive hitter.

Walker also has solid pedigree as his Mom attended Harvard and his Dad attended MIT. Additionally, his mother played basketball and ran track. Walker is pretty smart himself too, as he committed to play baseball at Duke, causing some scouts to believe that he will be a tough sign. However, as the 21st overall pick, he will presumably sign with the Cardinals, with the only question being for how much.

The pool amount for this pick is $3,132,300.

Quotes and updates

This article was updated later Wednesday evening after Walker and Cardinals scouting director Randy Flores separately met with the media.

In a night of dreams being made, Walker was joined on a Zoom call by his father Derek and mother Katrina, who has an MS from Emory University and a Masters from Washington University in St. Louis. Jordan is the second of their three children.

“I can’t describe how excited I am,” Jordan said. “The minute I heard my name called, I was jumping for joy. I really can’t think of the words to describe the feeling I’m feeling right now, but I can’t wait to play in the organization.”

Derek was clear that Jordan’s goal is to play baseball and called out MLB’s scholarship program, which will allow his son to put money away to get his degree later, calling it the “best of both worlds”.

St. Louis President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak co-hosted with Flores. In his 25th draft as a Cardinal, Mo called Walker “driven and ambitious”.

Flores believes that Walker has the athleticism and actions to remain at third base. “Our hope is he stays on the dirt,” the scouting director said. He clarified that to mean third, not first, complimenting Walker’s actions, grace and speed, while noting he is a big man.

I asked Walker to provide a self-scouting report. “My main strength is power,” he replied. “If I keep on progressing, I can truly be a power hitter in MLB – if I progress like I want to progress.

“Right now, I like the ball more when it is middle in. That is the area where I hit the ball most consistently.  I struggle a little bit on the outside corner. I am less consistent hitting it there. It is something I definitely want to be more consistent at.”

Walker said he is hitting daily against college-bound pitchers and is also throwing and working out each day.

Flores believes his first-rounder is signable. “We are very hopeful that Jordan Walker is ready to start his career,” he said. “We were very confident when we went into that.”

Walker (and his parents) seem on board, too.

“Whenever they tell me to come down when this is all over, I will be ready to come down,” the 18-year old said.

Asked  by a hometown television reporter if he plans to sign with St. Louis, Walker briefly looked at his Dad before replying, “I think so.” Derek added a caveat but also confirmed the family’s support. “Unless something happens between now and signing, I think he is going there,” Mr. Walker concluded.

Walker was scouted by Cardinals area scout Charles Peterson and is being advised by B.B. Abbott of Jet Sports Management. The agency represents a number of current major leaguers, including Chris Sale, Corey Kluber, Gavin Lux, Kyle Seager and Matt Olson.

Your authors

As in 2019, TCN staff writer Blake Newberry is writing the player capsules with Brian Walton filling in the rest.

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