In December, the Orioles claimed Adam Brett Walker off the Milwaukee Brewers, a club that he had only been with for about two months. The Brewers had claimed him off the Minnesota Twins. Both of those clubs are bottom third clubs short on talent and great on opportunity. When Milwaukee claimed Walker, they needed the Reds, Padres, Rays, Braves, Athletics, Diamondbacks, and Phillies to pass on him. They did. When the Brewers DFA'd him, the Orioles needed those seven clubs plus the Twins, Angels, Rockies, White Sox, Pirates, Marlins, Royals, Astros, Yankees, Mariners, Cardinals, Tigers, Giants, and Mets to pass on him. They did and Walker graced the Orioles organization until his presence was put in DFA limbo as mentioned earlier.
Now, Adam Brett Walker is one of the best baseball players in the world. He also has some of the greatest power of any batter in the world. The main problem though is that Walker is quite likely unable to do much against the very best pitchers in the world. There is a reason why Walker played last year at AAA and is on a 40 man roster. He is quite good at baseball. Indeed, Walker might be the 1,000 best baseball player in the world out of 5 or so billion, but that probably does not mean much for the Orioles.
However, he may not be the right kind of player to enjoy success in the majors. Nor does he have the prospect cache or skill set that would provide him with ample opportunity at the major league level to prove doubters wrong. Walker will likely need a venue to better showcase his skills and that might entail a trip abroad. If he took his bat to the KBO, our KANG model projects Adam Brett Walker as a 281/372/509 hitter with 47 home runs. That might well turn someone's head and earn him a deal similar to the 3/15 deal Thames signed this past December. It is a kind of performance that could earn Walker a few million a year as opposed to money he currently is seeing in Norfolk.
Anyway, I am ahead of myself. Yes, this past offseason he has been compared to Chris Carter, a player who has been on the edge of a MLB roster for years. Both are big guys and can hit the ball a mile.
Below are Walker's numbers as a professional:
|Minors (5 seasons)||Minors||2449||124||189||744||.251||.310||.486|
Here are Carter's numbers through age 24 (with his MLB lines deleted):
Both show substantial power, but there are a couple differences here that illustrate Carter as perhaps a better hitter. For one, Carter's batting average ranged from .259 to .329 while Walker's ranged from .239 to .278. Upper minors saw Walker in the low .240s while Carter was in the .280s. That shows a rather significant difference in performance as it relates to meaningful contact. Some SABR hobbyists still claim that batting average is meaningless, but it in fact can communicate quite a bit. An MLB hitter should be able to maintain a respectable average in the minors.
The second bit of concern are the walk and strikeout differences between the two. Carter certainly had his troubles coming up through the minors with more advanced pitchers. He still shows trouble with making contact at the MLB level. That said, it does not compare to what Walker has gone through. I am at a complete loss as to who is successful in the majors while striking out 38% of the time in AAA. Carter struck out at AAA less than 25% of the time.
Anyway, a major difference between Walker and Carter are strikeouts. Walker's look incredibly high, so it might be good to see how his performance differs from others. Here is a list of all players in the International League with over 350 PA and who struck out more than 30% of the time:
|(min 350 PA)|
|Adam B Walker||2016||38.0%|
|Jon Van Every||2008||35.5%|
That is a very sobering list of players. A couple weekends ago, I tried to make Oriole specific comps for Walker. They were: Jack Cust without the walks, Calvin Pickering without the contact, Brandon Waring without the position, Brandon Fahey with power. Something like that. Walker has a skillset that looks very challenging to succeed. Looking at this one part of his performance, the above list shows not a single player who was much of a solution at the MLB level.
When I feel this certain about a performance-based scouting endeavor, I will seek out scouts in the field who I know who will soundboard these quantitative notions. Both I talked to said I was on the ball with my analysis. One told me that that the only reason why he stays on public top 20 organization lists is because he hits home runs off poor pitchers and is on someone's 40 man roster. He noted that several organizations would want him in their system, but maybe a couple think he is worth bothering with if it costs a 40 man slot. He thinks there is a bit of an echo chamber on Walker because Baseball America has been a tad aggressive on him, which makes him appear as more of a prospect in the public sphere than within the actual industry.
The second guy I talked to called him a 30 player (organizational filler) whose power will probably earn him a couple cups of coffee. He said there are simply too many holes in the zone for him and advanced AAA arms with some knowledge of him could work the zone and avoid any contact. On the Orioles, he thought it would be difficult for Walker to ever get a shot, but he could see a bottom rung club with little talent giving him 300-400 at bats. He thought Walker could hit up to 20 home runs, but would have a very weak batting average. He thought the profile plays nowhere.
Dan Szymborski was kind enough to give me a sneak peek at Walker's ZIPS projection. He slashed 222/277/449 with 29 home runs. It also projected him with 37 walks and 237 strikeouts. If Walker is truly a below average defender, as suggested in scouting reports, then he would be a negative WAR player. Similar comps include former Orioles Ken Gerhart and John Russell along with Hensley Muelens and Billy Beane. The projection is a more favorable view than what I heard from the scouts, but this still falls short of Chris Carter territory.
That all said, Walker is a very good baseball player. With his skillset, it is difficult to see where exactly he would fit into the Orioles active roster while earning regular playing time. His low contact, high power minor league performance might play in the majors, but it really is quite a unique collection of skill levels. If he could manage a bad year Chris Davis at the plate while manning a corner outfield position, then that works. A .240, 35 home run bat can work out there. However, we should remember that Chris Davis carries a .337 batting average in AAA. Walker simply presents an extreme skill set that we have not seen recently in the upper minors and with which players like Mike Hessman could not really make it work.
Personally, my advice for Adam Brett Walker would be to find a way to the KBO as soon as possible. Maybe he has to spend a year in Norfolk in which Harbor Park will not show off his skillset. In the KBO though, he would be able to earn about ten times or more what he makes being on the 40 man roster in the minors. With more cash in the bank, he can eat better, train better, live better. Walker would have the opportunity to play in front of more energetic crowds than AAA sees. He will also be able to come back to the States after dominating the KBO and find himself a solid contract in an organization where he wants to be.
Or, maybe, this is the year he forces everyone to recognize that he has MLB talent.