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Christian Walker learning from Chris Davis — in case he ever needs to replace him

Orioles infielder Christian Walker could be the heir apparent if Chris Davis leaves via free agency.
Orioles infielder Christian Walker could be the heir apparent if Chris Davis leaves via free agency. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

DUNEDIN, FLA. — There is always a method to Buck Showalter's madness, so it was no accident that first base prospect Christian Walker arrived for his first major league spring training camp and found his locker right next to the man he might replace next year.

"It wasn't anything that deep,'' Showalter said Friday, "but I like having him there near Chris."

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Don't believe it. There's a lot beneath the surface there. With Chris Davis entering his last season before becoming eligible for free agency and Walker coming off a 2014 season for which he was named the organization's minor league player of the year, it isn't hard to do the math. He's the heir apparent if he can prove he's ready to play regularly at the major league level.

"Yeah, there are a lot of different aspects that go into it,'' Walker said. "It's partly waiting your turn, partly staying motivated and doing your job and showing them that you have assets this team can use, while at the same time trying to learn from him. He's hit [53 homers] at the big league level [in 2013]. He's doing something right. That's pretty special there."

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There are enough aspects, in fact, that Walker might not grasp all of them — like the fact that Showalter probably cares more about what Walker can learn from Davis at first base than at the plate. The Orioles already know Walker can hit after he drove in 96 runs in just 139 games last year, splitting time at Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk.

"He had a pretty good year last year, when you drive in close to 100 runs in the minor leagues when there are only 144 games as opposed to 162,'' Showalter said. "A lot of times when you're doing that well, you move to another level, which means you miss about three days in the transfer. That gets your attention."

It got Walker a September call-up and a chance to experience the heady atmosphere that surrounded the Orioles as they ran away with the American League East title. It got him in front of the major league coaching staff, though that may have been a mixed blessing at the end of the longest season of his career.

Showalter came away with some questions about his defensive acumen and has made no secret of the fact that Walker, a fourth-round pick in 2012 out of South Carolina, needs to prove he can be a more complete player.

"He had never played in September and hadn't really played a whole lot in August,'' Showalter said. "It's was a long year for him and a lot of those guys. ... He's got to maintain a level of defense, too. I think he can hit up here. It's just a matter of how good his defense is going to be, which is going to allow you to keep him out here."

They used to say the same thing about Davis, who has turned himself into a very good defensive first baseman and takes pride in being in the Gold Glove Award conversation the past couple of years, even if he has yet to win one.

Meanwhile, Walker has moved up through the Orioles' minor league system and hopes to be at the top of the depth chart if opportunity knocks next year. Davis is positioned for a big free-agent payday if he can bounce back from his difficult 2014 season and put up run-production numbers like he did two seasons ago.

Walker, who turns 24 later this month, said Friday that he has enjoyed lockering next to Davis and isn't rooting for him to hit his way out of Baltimore, but he wants to take another big developmental step just in case.

"Yeah, I definitely have mixed emotions,'' Walker said. "Obviously, I want to be in the big leagues, but you never want to wish bad upon another player. Like I said, I'm waiting my turn. Whether I start in Triple-A or here, I'm just going to try to go out and show them the kind of player I am and that I can help the team win."

Showalter has watched a number of young players come up through the minor league ranks, and his advice for someone like Walker is always the same: Focus on the present and make the most of every minute on the field. The rest will take care of itself.

"These guys get it,'' Showalter said. "They know the tea leaves. They know what's going on. They don't get too far ahead of themselves. That's something that, not just us, but we really stress staying in the moment."

So far, Walker seems comfortable in his new surroundings and his uncertain situation, at least from all outward appearances.

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"It can create anxiety, but he controls it,'' Showalter said. "If Chris [Davis] gets that long contract here and stays forever, he [Walker] still controls it. There will always be a spot for you in the major leagues if you take care of your business. People are always in need of the things that Christian has to offer."

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