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Mariners 2020 draft preview: 3B Jordan Walker

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Walker is a high-upside plus athlete with tools (and power) to dream on...if the Mariners are willing to take a risk

Baseball: PDP League-Media Day
Jordan Walker: much better than socks!
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The term “Baseball Christmas” is sometimes thrown around as a joking euphemism for the MLB Draft, a time when prospect hounds across the country get to learn the names of their potential new favorite players. For those who follow the draft closely, angling to predict who goes where leads to a payoff of excitedly following at least the first round, with the extra bonus that one of these players will now become a member of your favorite organization.

For the last several years, however, the Jerry Dipoto-led Mariners have gifted fans with the equivalent of socks for Christmas: functional, useful, solid, but not exciting. Multiple factors are at play here, from weak draft classes (2019) to poor draft positioning (the Mariners haven’t picked inside the top 10 since 2014, with no first-round pick in 2015) to a baseball-wide preference for college players and the Mariners’ stated desire to avoid a deep rebuild. With an especially deep crop of collegians in this year’s draft and no consensus can’t-miss prepsters like 2019 (Bobby Witt Jr., Riley Greene, CJ Abrams) or 2017 (Royce Lewis, Hunter Greene, MacKenzie Gore), it seems likely the Mariners will go the college route again in 2020, and we have slanted our early draft coverage to reflect that reality.

But what if they...didn’t? There’s still plenty of time for one or several of the prep players to separate themselves from the pack. We’ve already profiled a few staff prep favorites, from Jared Kelley and Robert Hassell (Kate’s favorites, a Texan power pitcher and the best pure hitter in the class) to Austin Hendrick and Zac Veen (John, showing a Jack Z-like love of power hitters) to Pete Crow-Armstrong (Tim’s favorite, the best defensive outfielder in the class, and the clear style winner). But there’s a new name that came on strong as the summer season wound down, and he happens to play a position of need for Seattle: Georgia (Decatur HS) 3B Jordan Walker.

Walker first jumped out to me at the Perfect Game All-American Classic when he went 2-for-3 on the day with two singles and a walk and showed off some good contact skills with a nice two-strike approach. Walker is young for his class (he won’t turn 18 until the month of the draft) but has performed well against older competition thanks to his advanced approach at the plate; coaches praise his high baseball IQ, which seems to translate well off-the-field as well, as he’s a highly anticipated Duke commit with a 3.9 GPA.

Walker is listed anywhere between 6’3” and 6’5”, with a long, lean frame and extra-long legs. Despite his height he is a fluid defender at third with strong footwork and fundamentals with plus range. Duke coach Chris Pollard calls Walker “one of the best high school defenders that I have ever scouted and the best high school third baseman that I have ever scouted.” Walker has also spent time on the mound, where he’s worked his fastball from the high 80s to the low 90s over his high school career, giving him a strong and accurate arm across the diamond.

What most excites scouts about Walker is the potential for plus power in his bat, given his swing mechanics and the physical projection in his frame; the ball reportedly jumps off his bat, with triple-digit exit velocities to back up the eye (and ear) test. In addition to being selected for the first-ever MLB High School All-Star Game this summer, where he earned MVP honors, Walker also participated in that event’s home run derby, played at Cleveland’s Progressive Field. He only hit six home runs in the derby, but that, combined with his MVP performance in the All-Star Game, was enough to send Walker’s name rocketing up draft boards later this summer.

Walker has plus bat speed with a whippy swing and quick hands, allowing him to get the bat to the ball all over the zone. While the power is currently more to the pull side, Walker has said he’s been working on hitting the ball all over the field, and is proud of the results he’s had with that. He’s also shown the ability to hit with wood at several events.

Walker’s defensive abilities and hit tool already provide a strong base, but the more those tantalizing flashes of power show, the higher he will climb in a class that not only lacks a consensus top prep position player but is also thin at infielders at both levels. Here’s what that power can look (and sound) like:

When drafting in or near the top five, the dream is not only to get a great player on the field, but a future face of the franchise off the field: a player whose jersey everyone wants; who highlights FanFests and autograph signings; who represents the team in MLB’s annual commercial where they are legally obligated to recognize the existence of the Seattle Mariners. Walker, who exudes humility, charm, and a genuine love for baseball, has the magnetic personality that is a marketer’s dream; he says he was worried at the High School All-Star game his face would wrinkle from smiling so much. He’s the kind of ambassador a Mariners team that’s an afterthought in the city could use, and moreover, he’s an excellent ambassador for the game of baseball with his passion for the game, formed as a boy in Georgia when playing for his grandfather’s team, the Black Yankees.

While John and I have been working on the AL West threat assessments, we have envied the young, high upside prospects in other organizations, top prospects who are already attracting national attention before stepping on an MLB field. Sometimes that works out (example: the Angels and Jo Adell); sometimes not (example: the A’s and Kyler Murray), but as John has repeatedly argued, at some point the team is going to have to swing for ceiling-busting talent. We know what we’re putting on our Baseball Christmas list this year, and it isn’t socks.