16 August 2014

Christian Walker, Future First Baseman?

Christian Walker reacts to being the subject of a Camden Depot article. Photo courtesy of Les Treagus / Norfolk Tides.
Christian Walker could be the Official Orioles' Prospect of Camden Depot. At the very least, he appears to be our editor's favorite prospect. The Depot bucked consensus by naming Walker as its #10 prospect and described as "the makings of a big league player surround Walker ... if mechanics or physical development can [improve] his power from average to plus, he becomes ... a first division starter."

Walker started the 2014 season at AA Bowie, and dominated (.301/.367/.516; .301-20-77). At the AAA all-star break, he was promoted to AAA Norfolk (the Orioles sold Brett Wallace to the Blue Jays organization to make room for him.) He immediately became the Tides' regular first baseman and has performed essentially as well (.297/.387/.475 through August 14. This line is a little bit higher than we should expect, because Walker has hit two of his four home runs in Columbus, the best home-run park in the league.) With Chris Davis' struggles, Orioles fans may dream that Christian Walker could become a low-cost option at first base, allowing the Orioles to not sign Davis at the price he'll likely demand.

I've seen Christian Walker play six games at Norfolk and he's performed well. What's most impressive is that he's consistently hit line drives, and he's been very successful when he does hit line drives:

Line Drive

The first row is the number of such balls Walker has hit; the second line is his slash line when he hits one of those balls. When he put the ball in play, almost 45% of the time he hit a line drive. And while we can't expect him to continue to hit that well, and we certainly can't expect him to hit .875 when he hits a line drive, the fact that he hit as many line drives when he moved up to a higher level is encouraging.

Also encouraging is his strike-zone judgment in these six games:

Balls: 38
Called Strikes: 8
Swinging Strikes: 14
Fouls: 21
In-play: 18

In his entire AAA tenure - not just the six games I've seen - Walker has been drawing walks at a significantly higher rate than any other time in his professional career. It remains to be seen if his rate will drop off to his previous levels, but it is noteworthy that the pitches he didn't swing at are not strikes and he's not missing at a lot of the pitches he is swinging at.

When a first baseman is promoted in mid-season from Bowie to Norfolk, I'm instantly reminded of Brandon Snyder, who accumulated an impressive stat line at Bowie. It soon became clear that Snyder had been playing over his head, and he proved to be a mediocre AAA player. Walker has been more impressive than Snyder ever was, and I think he might live up to the Depot's projection and become a solid major-league regular.


Unknown said...

It would be a huge benefit to the O's if he can reach that potential. With Davis becoming a free agent after next season, and his struggles this season for whatever reason, it's really nice to have another option developing in the minors. Do you think Walker could be ready for the bigs for the 2016 season?

L said...

I don't expect Davis to cost that much, and I don't expect Walker to hit enough to carry first base. I am not a believer in the power and the glove isn't enough to carry the Mark Grace profile.

Liam said...

L - You dont expect Walker to be able to carry first base, but you compare him to mark grace with worse defense? I'll take the 119 ops+ with below average defense in a heartbeat.

L said...

No, I meant the profile, more OBP skills than power. If I thought he'd hit as much as Mark Grace, that would have been a whole different post. I probably should have said Casey Kotchman or James Loney.

But 119 OPS+ is not great for a 1B anyway. So, I don't know why you would be so eager to take that.

Benana said...

I fear we have another Reynolds. This year in Milwaukee he has same HR as Davis but hitting around .150. Ready for next in line?

Erik said...

You always want to have an obvious option to caving in in a negotiation. Walker is not that yet and can't really become that in what remains of the season. It is nice to have injury insurance though, which he may be.

And a potential #2 hitter against RH pitchers isn't so bad.

Unknown said...

It remains to be seen if Walker's increase in offensive production is a one-year aberration or a sustainable change. I'd expect him to start 2015 at Norfolk. If he maintains his production, he'd be a mid-season callup candidate.

119 OPS+ is a middle-of-the-pack production for an American League first baseman. Above that level, you're getting into the star range. The Orioles don't appear to have a better in-house option if Davis needs to be replaced.

Jesse Young said...

Why is Steve Pearce not a viable option for 1B if Chris Davis walks? Not saying he kills it, but even if he reverts a little to say .270 with 25 HR's. That is serviceable and could allow us to use the money to sign Wieters. Of course, Davis' terrible year could just have made him resignable after all.

Anonymous said...

Pierce was a nice player for 6 weeks until he played enough to have his offensive weaknesses exposed. There is a reason AAAA guys play part time.

What was the big difference between this season and last for Davis? His hot start that lead to sky high confidence. This year slow start and he is playing a little hurt.

Jon Shepherd said...

I would not say that Pearce is overexposed. He was/is a known commodity with an established scouting report. Things simply just clicked for him for awhile and then they did not. Pitchers did not change how they went after him. He just fell out of a rhythm that he probably has no business being in.