St. Louis Cardinals: Twitter shows the Jordan Walker hype train is off the tracks
A Twitter poll has revealed how outsized many St. Louis Cardinals fans' expectations are for Jordan Walker.
A recent Twitter poll conducted by Kyle Reis, a freelance writer who covers the St. Louis Cardinals' minor leagues, has indicated that most fans would be disappointed or believe outfield prospect Jordan Walker didn't live up to his current hype if he has the same career as former Cardinals outfielder J.D. Drew.
Walker is a tantalizing player given his potential, and he could blossom into the Cardinals' or even one of baseball's top outfielders. His power is already elite and has room to grow even further, and the advanced stats such as exit velocity point to future success.
Expectations for Walker have reached a fever pitch, and while in a Cardinals fan's ideal world, his career would match that of Albert Pujols, people need to recognize that a Drew-like career would be an outstanding result.
Let's glance at Drew's stats: 1,437 hits, 242 home runs, 87 stolen bases, and a 125 OPS+. His slash line was .278/.384/.489. His WAR on Baseball Reference is 44.9, which is tied for 415th. That puts Drew in the top 2% of players ever to grace a major league diamond. Have expectations shot up so high that anything in that realm for Walker would be a disappointment?
Reis' poll did appear to be asking two different questions, and given the level of hype Walker has received, it would be fair to answer that it would be a disappointment were he to "only" reach Drew's heights. But that raises the question of how much fans should reasonably expect out of him in 2023.
There is a real possibility that Walker will make the team out of Spring Training, and if he doesn't, he will likely be an early call-up. There is also a possibility that he will not put up phenomenal numbers in his rookie season. In fact, he might not even post above-average numbers. Walker has shown that he can be susceptible to off-speed and breaking pitches away — pitches that most minor league players don't throw consistently well. Major league hurlers can exploit this and make Walker prove he can adjust.
Let's compare Walker's 2022 minor league stats with those of another highly touted Cardinal from a few years ago.
Walker: 461 at-bats, 19 home runs, 68 RBIs, slash line of .306/.388/.510
Player 2: 489 at-bats, 26 home runs, 68 RBIs, slash line of .292/.372/.542
Player 2 is Dylan Carlson in 2019 between Double-A and Triple-A. Carlson enjoyed a solid first full season in 2021 but stumbled last year, and now doubts swirl about his future. If Walker's rookie season can match Carlson's (.266/.343/.437, 18 home runs, 65 RBIs), that would be a satisfactory result. The hope and expectation are that Walker will build upon his rookie season. Fans shouldn't expect him (or any rookie) to be elite straight out of the gate.
On the contrary to the incredible expectations Walker now carries on his shoulders, if he struggles in his first exposure to major league pitching and receives a demotion, fans shouldn't dismiss him as a bust. Some fans have, perhaps unfairly, significantly reduced their expectations for prospects such as Nolan Gorman and Alec Burleson after they tasted the major leagues and had their issues. The mystical unknown quantity of an untested rookie can cause fans to salivate, and if he doesn't provide immediate satisfaction, it's tempting to want to write him off.
It's OK to be excited about Walker, but we shouldn't act as though the pinnacle of his career needs to rival that of some of the greatest of all time for him to reach expectations. A career like Drew's is a career I would take in a heartbeat, and 2023 will be when Walker begins that lofty ascent.