Let’s take a dive into how Jordan Walker compares with former St. Louis Cardinals outfield prospect Oscar Taveras.
Jordan Walker’s success in the minor leagues is driving St. Louis Cardinals fans into a frenzy the likes of which we haven’t seen with a position player since fellow outfielder Oscar Taveras was knocking on the door. How do Walker’s tools and skill set match up with those we saw of Taveras during his ascent through the minor leagues?
The Cardinals selected Walker in the first round of the abridged 2020 draft, and he has done nothing but tear the cover off the ball throughout his time in the minor leagues. In Walker’s debut season for Single-A Palm Beach at age 18, he slashed .374/.475/.687 and had a wRC+ of 205. After zooming through Palm Beach and High-A Peoria in 2021, Walker hit .306 in Double-A and has made it clear that he should be on the major league roster soon.
Taveras, meanwhile, was selected as an international free agent and spent a few seasons in Rookie ball, but he really broke out in 2011 when he reached Single-A. His slash line that year, his age-19 season, was .386/.444/.584, good for a 190 wRC+. Unlike Walker, Taveras spent his entire season at Single-A. After continuing to slash his way up the ladder, he reached Triple-A in 2013 and had a wRC+ of 109. That ascended to 121 when he repeated the level in 2014.
Walker and Taveras had similar treks through the minor leagues, although Taveras took a bit longer to reach the majors than Walker likely will because the Cardinals were more conservative with their promotions at the time.
The biggest difference between the two is the aggressiveness they showed at the plate. Taveras was a free swinger who made excellent contact when he let it rip. His walk rate in his last season at Triple-A was 7.3%. Walker’s walk rate in 2022 was 10.8%, a very good mark.
While Walker has shown a great eye at the plate, he has also struck out more than Taveras did at the same levels. Much of that could likely be attributed to the overall increase in strikeouts over the last decade, and to Walker’s credit, he cut down on his strikeouts upon his promotion to Double-A.
Walker is much more of a pull hitter than Taveras was, and with the elimination of the shift, players who pull the ball a lot will benefit immensely. Walker also has a higher BABIP rate than Taveras did, which is bolstered by his propensity to smack line drives.
On defense, Taveras had the advantage of advancing through the minor leagues as an outfielder, whereas Walker spent most of 2021 at third base before transitioning to left field. Walker has a cannon for an arm and could likely also play right field or center field if the situation called for it, and more reps in the outfield should only help his route-running ability.
Taveras’ brief stint in the majors saw him struggle to catch up to the fastball, an issue that he likely could have corrected had his death not cut his career short. Walker should be able to avoid that issue now that triple-digit fastballs are commonplace, even at the lower levels.
Taveras was the most anticipated outfield prospect to arrive on the scene since Albert Pujols, and Walker looks to be the next player to take that mantle. They shared some traits that were quite similar, although Walker appears more refined at this point in his career than Taveras was. Get excited, Cardinals fans.