Warne: Adam Walker's power numbers turning heads in Cedar Rapids
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Plenty of Minnesota Twins hitting prospects are getting some serious love this year -- with as many as four hitters in most top-100 prospect lists -- but there happens to be one down in Class-A Cedar Rapids with prodigious power whose bat is forcing people to take notice.
But it may not be the hitter you think.
That hitter is outfielder Adam Walker. The 21-year-old Walker, who measures in at 6-foot-5', 225-pounds, entered play Saturday second in the minor leagues with 47 runs batted in, and 13th overall in home runs (10), including trailing organization mates Chris Colabello and Miguel Sano (11 apiece).
His current batting line is .289/.331/.611, which comes out to a wOBA (weighted on-base average, scaled to OBP) of .412. Just Miguel Cabrera (.417) and Ryan Braun (.413) exceeded that mark at the big league level last year.
Walker was a 2012 third-round pick out of Jacksonville University, which is the third-smallest school in the Atlantic Sun Conference. For some reference, Kennesaw State is the largest school in the conference, with about seven-to-eight times the enrollment that Jacksonville U has.
Only nine players from Jacksonville U have ever made it to the Majors -- perhaps most notably Daniel Murphy, who plays second base for the New York Mets. Even at Kennesaw State, the most notable player in school history is 12-year big league utility man Willie Harris.
In other words, Walker was a big fish in a little pond.
But Walker was absolutely dominant in his three years at Jacksonville, popping 41 home runs and hitting .359/.441/.635 overall in 168 college games. That power is what has evaluators and prospect writers hanging that rarely-assigned 80 grade on his power tool -- on the 20-80 scouting scale. That power tool hasn't disappointed so far in the Twins system either, with 24 home runs in just over 400 plate appearances.
In fact, at his current pace, Walker would hit 35 home runs in 600 plate appearances.
So dominant as a collegian was Walker that the Twins decided he was worth a top-100 pick in last year's draft -- small school/conference or not.
"He's a lottery ticket," prospect guru Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus said. "He's kind of a freak. He's a real specimen. He has crazy bat speed and gets good leverage. He's very legit."
Twins farm director Brad Steil concurs with Parks' assessment, suggesting Walker has '8 grade power' (20-80 simplified to 2-8), who will have to learn to lay off pitches and be patient in order to improve his less-than-ideal walk numbers.
And that's one gripe about Walker's game. His patience has been slow to develop, and with players of Walker's ilk, sometimes it -- or other parts of the offensive approach -- just doesn't develop.
The Twins dabbled with this type of player before, using a supplemental first-round pick to grab first baseman Henry Sanchez in 2005. Sanchez, like Walker, was a large-framed (6'3", 260) corner-type who was reputed to have massive power and whose game drew comparisons to Andres Galarraga and Prince Fielder according to Baseball America. Sanchez hit .557 in his senior year of high school, went 11 for 20 at the Area Code Games, and solidified himself as a fringe first-round talent with some potential weight and durability issues.
It wasn't to be.
Sanchez flamed out in 2009 -- thanks at least in part to hand issues, as well as drug issues -- only ascending as high as Low-A ball while only hitting .207/.293/.341 with just eight home runs in 389 professional plate appearances. And while Walker has clearly, massively outperformed Sanchez as a professional, Sanchez is a cautionary tale for what can happen with a player of this skill set.
Another facet that's semi-related to discipline is contact; at times Walker struggles in that department. Walker's contact and discipline issues were never more apparent than when he hit .250/.310/.496 with a 4-to-1 strikeouts to walks rate at Elizabethton in 2012 (rookie ball).
That's still a decent, if not really good overall line, but lack of contact, especially when mixed with low walk rates, in the lower levels rarely bodes well for a hitter's future.
"At times he struggles with good stuff," Parks said. "Half the time he's facing pitchers in A-ball who will never even see the upper minors, let alone the major leagues. That can make it hard to gauge what his adaptability will be. He's raw, and at times has feasted on inadequate pitching. There are some holes in his swing."
Another prospect writer, Albert Skorupa of Fangraphs, sees a hitter with a long swing -- bad -- with a lot of leverage and great pop -- good. He also said he was more impressed with Walker's athleticism in the spring, but that he was still a fringe corner outfielder with a likely future at first base. Parks tends to agree. "He's going to be a bat-first guy, but I could see him possibly sticking in left field over first base due to arm utility."
In essence, the Twins took a gamble on a power prospect in the third round with the idea of high-risk, high-reward. And right now, that means the Twins farm system has more power than any time in recent memory.