For much of the season, Jordan Walker was a slightly above-league average hitter for the St. Louis Cardinals who also boasted some of the worst outfield defense in the league. For someone who was just 21 years old and barely played outfield in his career, it was hard to be "disappointed" by what he was doing on the field, but it's fair to say fans were hoping for more at times.
Boy has Walker put on a show as of late. Over his last 30 games, Walker is slashing .305/.373/.552, and after going 3-4 with a HR, 2B, and 2 RBI on Tuesday against the Braves, he's now mashed 15 HR with 44 RBI and a .812 OPS on the season. If he continues his explosive end to the season, he could end up finishing in the top-35 hitters in all of baseball in OPS, and let me repeat, he's just 21 years old.
His defense has looked a lot better as of late as well. It was pretty normal to see a really bad play or two each week from Walker. He's not only cut down on those mistakes, but he's also beginning to make some really great plays out there as well.
It was only a week ago that I examined what fair expectations were for Walker in 2024, and while those have not changed, I do think Walker is showing the potential to explode as a top-end player next season.
I thought it was fair to believe Walker would be a league-average defender next season. While I maintain that expectation, I do think we could see Walker, especially by mid-season, as an above-average defender who uses his tools to make great plays out in right field and keep runners in check on the base paths.
Hit bat really has the potential to explode over the course of the season as well. Since August 9th (and these stats do not include his latest game against the Braves), Walker has a .324/.413/.603 slash line (1.015 OPS) with a 174 wRC+. Even with his struggles earlier this year and extremely high ground ball rate, Walker is still on pace for 25 home runs per 550 at-bats. With a full season next year and his powerful swing finally being tapped into, we could see a real power surge from Walker.
Honestly, as the season went along, I was optimistic we would see a better version of Walker in 2024, but that true stardom likely wouldn't come until later that season or possibly in 2025. Not because I doubt him as a talent, but because he's still so young and has so much time to develop. The way that Walker is using his tools and raw talent during this last month of baseball makes me think he could be not only one of the Cardinals' best hitters next season but one of the best hitters in baseball as well.
Again, expectations should be lower than that. If he puts up a 125-130 OPS next season, that's an excellent sophomore campaign for Walker. But honestly, I think we can be optimistic that he's even better than that. If so, his emergence, alongside the quiet stardom of Lars Nootbaar, and the continued development of Nolan Gorman and Brendan Donovan, means the Cardinals really should challenge the rest of Major League Baseball for one of the best offenses in the game next season.