photo: Jordan Walker (Perfect Game Baseball)
Do not ask him to boast about the next school that offered him a baseball scholarship or about his feats coming off a night in which he went 4-for-4 including two home runs.
Jordan Walker will not do it.
“We used to have to brag for him when we would go back to school,” said Jaxson Sprull, Walker’s best friend and former teammate at Decatur High School in Georgia. “It’s just not in him to talk about himself at all.”
Bulldogs head baseball coach Robby Gilbert said the St. Louis Cardinals first-round pick is “almost embarrassed” by the accolades at times.
But as scouts would say, that is just a part of his makeup.
“At this day in age to be that high-caliber of a kid athletically where everybody knows who you are — he’s just extremely humble,” Gilbert said. “He loves his teammates. There is nothing beneath him.
“He is just that humble of a kid that he just wants to go play the game of baseball and he wants to be his teammates’ biggest cheerleader when he is not up to bat.”
Becoming Georgia’s top prospect
Legend has it that Walker found his power in tee ball, when he hit a home run that broke a window in his grandmother’s car, parked well beyond the outfield fence.
Walker’s father, Derek, told the St. Louis media he has video for proof.
The story grows as Jordan has grown, but there is no question about his power potential.
Sprull said Walker has always had the ability to crush the ball, but it wasn’t until his seventh grade year when his power started becoming evident.
“He wasn’t that huge kid that he is now, but he could just swing it like nobody else I had ever seen,” Sprull said. “He just kept getting bigger and hitting the ball harder.”
During their freshman year, Sprull realized that perhaps his friend could be drafted and play professional baseball one day after Walker jumped from junior varsity to varsity in a week and hit a home run in his first game at the higher level.
The Cardinals saw a lot of Walker last summer on the showcase circuit. Last year as a junior he hit .519 with 17 homers.
It was Walker’s junior season that Gilbert remembers with home run tales.
Decatur was at Maynard Jackson High School on March 11 — a region game. Gilbert said the night was bizarre in that everything was not going the Bulldogs’ way.
First, the umpire showed up an hour and a half late. Gilbert said the team went through a lot of adversity, but suddenly, Walker was up with a runner on and a chance to do damage.
“And he absolutely hits a missile to right-center,” Gilbert said. “It was a ball that barely lifted off the ground — it felt like. It was still going up as it crossed the fence. For him to pull a baseball and hit a home run, it’s easy. A lot of that stuff we talked about, ‘Hey man, you have to be willing to go the other way when the pitcher is throwing you away.’ You have to adjust to what they are giving you.
“That was a perfect example. He stepped up to the plate and everything was away, away and away. He just said, ‘You know what, I’m going that way.’ I’m telling you — he changed the whole dynamic of that game.”
The second home run that Gilbert remembers was at Grayson High School on February 18 — the season had just started and the temperature was at 40 degrees at first pitch.
“It’s brutally cold and fairly windy,” Gilbert said. “It’s one of those things — if you are a pitcher, it’s a great day. If you are a hitter, you are like, ‘Please don’t let me get jammed.’ You don’t want the bat to be tingling your hands. But again, he comes up and hits one to left-center on that kind of evening, not ideal conditions, but it was the same thing.
“Same trajectory, a line drive that was going up as it crossed the fence. You just sit there and go, ‘Wow, this kid is different.’”
Walker was unable to complete his senior season at Decatur because of the coronavirus pandemic, but in May he was named Georgia’s Gatorade Player of the Year after hitting .457 with four home runs in 16 games.
According to Baseball America, Walker was one of the high school players who managed to get seen by scouts early and often before all play was halted.
“I firmly think if he had a whole season to play — I could easily see him being a top 10 pick,” Gilbert said. “He is very disciplined. He is a student of the game. He wants to learn to get better. He is a kid that is not scared to be challenged.
“He doesn’t get fooled easily (at the plate).You may sneak one by him or catch him a little bit off guard one time, but you’re not going to catch him twice. A lot of times pitchers think, ‘Oh man, I got this pitch by him. I’m going to do it again.’ And then he’s hitting one 400 feet.”
Gilbert said that Walker has not fully tapped into his full hitting and power potential, especially as he starts to understand how to utilize his whole body and further matures physically.
“Then he is really going to hurt some baseballs,” Gilbert said.
Walker is 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, earning comparisons to the Chicago Cubs’ Kris Bryant, which Sprull said is an accurate comparison because they are of similar stature and have athleticism to go with height.
“Another good one (comp) to me would be Scott Rolen, because he’s a big power-hitting third baseman with the hands of a middle infielder that can really move for his size,” Sprull added.
Gilbert said he believes Walker can stay at third base down the road despite concern expressed by some scouts.
“My thing is, tell Jordan Walker he can’t do something and he will go prove you wrong,” Gilbert said. “He works extremely hard. He is going to continue to get better with his lateral movements and he is just so smooth and solid.”
Outside the game
Walker has also excelled in the classroom, earning a 3.98 GPA and a scholarship to Duke. His father is a graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and works for a computer software company.
His mother, Katrina, earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard and a master’s degree from Washington University in St. Louis. She is a teacher at the same school Walker attended.
Walker is expected to sign with the Cardinals and chase his dream of becoming a major-league player.
“I think St. Louis is getting a steal,” Gilbert said. “The Cardinals are getting a kid who is as great as he is on the field — he is even better off the field. He is going to be involved in the community, where he is at. He is every coach’s dream.”
Away from the game and the classroom, Gilbert said he has never been around someone that consumes as much food as Walker.
“I give him a hard time,” Gilbert said. “I always keep snacks in my classroom and of course baseball kids come in my room all the time. He loves fruit snacks. If he is going to sign a sponsorship deal, it better be with fruit snacks.”
Asked where Walker would sign a sponsorship deal first, Sprull said 100% with the cereal Cocoa Puffs.
“He has come to my house and eaten a whole box of my mom’s cocoa puffs in one sitting,” Sprull said. “She told him she owed him a lifetime supply now. For his birthday this year, I brought him four boxes and he finished them in about two days.
“I could definitely see a lucrative deal there.”
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