As a first base prospect, Christian Walker understands what it will take for him to succeed at the highest level. It’s not enough to be a hitter for average in a position filled with big-boppers, even in today’s faster game.
All Walker has done this season in Double-A Bowie to prove he belongs is lead the Eastern League with 14 home runs, a total that has put him among the best sluggers in the minors and helped reinforce his belief that such power existed in his bat.
“As a corner guy, typically they like to see a lot of power, or at least you drive in a lot of runs,” Walker said. “Consistently, over the years, I’ve been more of an average guy, and I didn’t want to let the fact that I needed to hit more home runs mess up my approach at all or make me try to be someone that I’m not at the plate.
“I knew the power was in there [from] batting practice and stuff like that,” Walker said. “I’d hit some balls well and put some good swings on it. It was just a matter of translating it into the game and still not changing my approach, trying to yank balls or do too much to it.”
Walker, a fourth-round pick out of South Carolina in 2012, has found a way to bring that five-o'clock power into games.
He is near the top of the Eastern League in several offensive categories. His 45 RBIs and 116 total bases are also tops in the league, and his .979 OPS is third in the league. Walker is batting .330/.390/.589, giving him his best batting line since he turned professional.
His 2013 campaign was dampened slightly by injury at the end of the season, but Walker hit well in both Low-A Delmarva and High-A Frederick before reaching Bowie.
Walker played for a month in the South Atlantic League and hit .284/.376/.420 with a pair of home runs in 22 games before he was promoted to Frederick. In Frederick, Walker hit himself into the MLB Futures Game with a .288/.343/.479 slash line and eight home runs and 17 doubles in 55 games.
But by the time Walker reached Bowie, he was battling a back injury and played just 17 games for the Baysox. Because of those late-season struggles, Walker said it was imperative to start out how he has.
“I felt like when I got here last year, I definitely didn’t perform at the level that I was capable of, so I did feel like I had something to prove a little bit,” Walker said. “It is still early in the year, but as far as the power and all that, everything is feeling good.”
Walker and manager Gary Kendall credit Walker’s health and a more consistent approach for his success to this point.
Walker said he’s putting himself in a position to succeed by thinking up the middle and allowing himself to hit to all fields, not just pull the ball. By allowing the ball to get deeper into the strike zone, Walker is able to do more with a larger variety of pitches.
But while Walker has been strong at the plate this year, Kendall said his most marked improvement has been at first base.
“That’s one thing I consistently have been hearing, that they’d like to see my defense get better,” Walker said. “That’s one thing I’ve been working very hard at, taking ground balls from all different angles, making throws to second, working around the bag at first.”
Walker will likely be limited to first base going forward, meaning any slip-up in performance at the plate will dim his prospects greatly.
But with each towering home run — including two Monday that landed on top of the team store in left field in Harrisburg, and one last week at home in Bowie that was a blast the opposite way to right field — Walker’s prospects rise a little bit more.