In honor of his third appearance in Lookout Landing’s 40 in 40 series, here are three fun facts about the M’s stouthearted shortstop, Donovan Walton.
1. Donovan Walton is the third-longest tenured player on the Mariners (by a matter of hours)
Walton was the M’s 5th round draft choice out of Oklahoma State in 2016, attracting scouts with a plus glove at short and a knack for getting on base.
Kyle Lewis and Joe Rizzo were selected in rounds one and two of that same draft, which technically makes Walton the third longest-tenured player in the organization. Go figure.
Primarily a shortstop throughout his minor league career, casual Mariners fans probably know Donavan Walton as the diminutive second baseman who is summarily beamed down into ballgames in the middle of the season to spell ailing infielders as the grind of a 162-game slate starts to take its toll.
Not incidentally, Walton is also a holdover from a not-too-distant past wherein John Stanton made a bet with Jerry Dipoto and Scott Servais that they could not construct a major league roster entirely out of second basemen.*
*Reminiscing about 2020, in which the Mariners squeezed a full year’s worth of lineup hijinks into three months, trotting out a smattering of haphazard batting orders that at various points featured the likes of Walton, Dylan Moore, Ty France, Dee Strange-Gordon, Shed Long, Sam Haggerty, and Tim Lopes playing, and more alarmingly NOT playing, second base.
Despite his glove-first utility infielder profile at the big league level, Walton can actually kind of lay the lumber, which brings us to fun fact #2...
2. Donovan Walton had a career-best offensive year in 2021
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Donavan Walton quietly had a terrific season last year in Triple-A Tacoma.
Walton has certainly been no slouch throughout his minor league career; the shortstop has earned a variety of hardware over the years that speak to the quality of his bat (3-time Mariners organization All-Star), glove (2019 Minor League Gold Glove Award), and character (2019 Dan Wilson Minor League Community Service Award).
In 2021 there wasn’t a Triple-A All-Star Game, but if there was one, Donovan Walton probably would have added one more selection to his resume.
Walton pestered the Pacific Coast League primarily as Tacoma’s leadoff hitter, slashing .304/.395/.519 and cracking a career-high 13 homers to the tune of a 126 wRC+.
The dynamic 2021 Rainiers lineup was a case study in the perennial truth that strong Triple-A output does not always translate to MLB success (see: Marmolejos, José and his unholy 167 wRC+ and .672 slugging percentage). But Walton’s season showed plenty of promise, anchored by a 10.5 BB% and 10.8 K% and a penchant for turning in hard-nosed, professional at bats.
And, uh, there was also this whole thing:
Not the 1st time the Rainiers having an issue with Henry Ramos. Weak move throwing your helmet. pic.twitter.com/fdRdEHLmxb— Mariners Minors (@MiLBMariners) September 4, 2021
Sprinkled in with his Triple-A success, Walton enjoyed four separate stints in Seattle over the course of the season, totaling 24 games.
His first and longest stretch began May 15 when Evan White and Ty France both went down with injuries. Walton slotted into the lineup most days through June 10, (mostly at second base, but occasionally at third, left field, and even DH). After three more quick cups of coffee throughout the remainder of the season, Walton ended 2021 with 69 plate appearances to his name at exactly replacement level.
Walton’s sporadic season was still illuminated by a few shining moments. Donnie “The DH” socked a triple in his first game back with the Mariners in a bloodbath of a win against a hapless Cleveland club.
Then on May 31, in a little ditty known in some circles as the “Tom Murphy eyes game,” Walton smoked his first big league homer, helping lead the Mariners to a thrilling extra innings victory over Oakland.
Every big leaguer will tell you that their first home run in the show is a special moment. For Walton, after toiling for six years in the minors and receiving only the smallest of windows in the majors, it was all of that and more.
Donovan Walton says his first career home run is something he's envisioned and thought about a million times. Said he kind of blacked out running the bases and couldn't feel anything.— Jen Mueller (@JenTalksSports) June 1, 2021
Also said he made a couple adjustments during BP today that paid off.
Which brings us to our final fact of the day...
3. Donovan Walton is entering his final option year
On the doorstep of his age-28 season, Walton doesn’t figure to be a part of the M’s long-term plans. Walton has only accrued a mere 36 games worth of MLB service time dating back to 2019 when he first broke in as a September call-up, but 2022 will be Walton’s final option year.
Walton’s continued presence on the 40-man is largely due to a lack of promising middle infield prospects in the Mariners’ high minors system — and a dearth of serviceable shortstop depth on the current roster once you get past JP Crawford (no mo’ D-Mo at shortstop, please and thank you).
Will Donovan Walton see the field for the Seattle Mariners in 2022? If Crawford misses any significant time, it seems likely.
Will Donovan Walton be a member of the Seattle Mariners in 2023? If I were a betting man, I would wager no.
Lookout Landing’s Amanda Lane beautifully explored a bit of Walton’s personal journey as part of last year’s 40 in 40 series.
His dad, Rob Walton, was once a 19 year old pitcher who hurled 95 mph fastballs across the plate. He could command his pitches, and he showed the same baseball IQ his son would years in the future. Rob’s career was derailed once after doctors found a tumor under his shoulder blade. It was derailed again, after he was promised his major league promotion. In the last game he was scheduled to pitch in the minor leagues, his rotator cuff tore along with his baseball dreams.
Rob eventually began coaching and put himself into making other kids’ dreams come true, including his son. When Donovan was called up to Seattle he told his dad, “We did it.”
No matter what happens next, Donovan Walton made it to the big leagues. He hit a home run (and then another one just a few games later). He earned an assortment of accolades throughout his career that reflect his quality as a teammate and as a player.
And as the beating heart of a number of formidable and memorable teams, from the 2021 Tacoma Rainiers, to the 2019 Arkansas Travelers, to the 2016 College Baseball World Series semifinalist Oklahoma State Cowboys, he has done things big and small to help his team win.
Now in 2022, we’ll see if Donovan Walton gets one last chance to do the same for the Seattle Mariners.