What are the St. Louis Cardinals going to do with Jordan Walker?
The Cardinals may have a good problem in 2023. Top prospect Jordan Walker could just force himself onto the Opening Day roster. He certainly started out with a bang, launching a 430-foot shot on the first pitch he saw in an early spring training game. As of this writing, he is hitting .385 this spring.
Walker has been taking reps in the outfield, as his natural position, third base, is occupied by a certain gentleman named Nolan Arenado. Walker even made a nice catch-up against the wall in that same spring training game, and he has the speed and athleticism to play in the outfield.
With a plethora of outfielders coming back from last year, and a veritable conga line of DH candidates, what will the Cardinals do if Walker’s bat makes it impossible to send him down to AAA? It seems unlikely they would put him on the roster just to have him sit on the bench most of the year.
Manager Oli Marmol is no stranger to juggling players and lineups, but there are only so many chairs to go around. Walker can spell Arenado at third when he needs a rest, with Arenado serving as the DH. However, that means that one of the other young guns, Gorman, Nate Burleson, or Juan Yepes, would be relegated to the bench. Gorman can play some second base, but it remains to be seen if he can beat out Brendan Donovan for the starting job.
Walker’s arm is a cannon, but incumbent right fielder Lars Nootbaar also has a strong arm. Pundits have speculated that Walker could end up in left field, currently occupied by two-time Gold Glover and potential comeback candidate Tyler O’Neill. That would bump O’Neill to center (assuming he is healthy), where he has been taking reps in spring training, leaving Dylan Carlson as the man out.
You remember Dylan Carlson, the guy the Cardinals apparently refused to trade to get Sean Murphy, the younger, cheaper, and better defensive version of Willson Contreras? While the team remains high on Carlson, he will need to improve on last season if he wants to see regular playing time.
Walker could DH, but those at-bats are already spread thin among the young players referenced above, not to mention Paul Goldschmidt when he needs a breather. At 35, Goldschmidt may need some additional at-bats this year at DH.
Could Walker back up Goldschmidt at first base? To the best of my knowledge, Walker has not taken any reps at first base, and it seems like a waste to put such a great athlete there.
The most likely scenario is Walker splitting his time between left field, third base, and DH, which is probably not ideal for a rookie. However, if he continues to hit as he has so far, the team will have no choice but to find him a more permanent position.
The trade deadline may help solve this logjam. Walker is certainly not a trade candidate, but some of the other young players may be part of a package deal to acquire a starter or reliever for the playoff run.
Whatever the outcome, this is the kind of problem that all teams hope to have. As a lifelong Cardinal fan and proud owner of a Jordan Walker rookie card, I am rooting for the kid.