Each weekday during the minor-league season, FanGraphs is providing a status update on multiple rookie-eligible players. Note that Age denotes the relevant prospect’s baseball age (i.e. as of July 1st of the current year); Top-15, the prospect’s place on Marc Hulet’s preseason organizational list; and Top-100, that same prospect’s rank on Hulet’s overall top-100 list.
Christian Walker, 1B, Baltimore Orioles (Profile)
Level: Double-A Age: 23 Top-15: N/A Top-100: N/A
Line: 374 PA, .307/.366/.542, 20 HR, 8.6% BB, 19.5% K
Chris Davis is one of the best player acquisitions by the Orioles in recent memory. The slugging first baseman hit 86 home runs between 2012-13. Unfortunately, he’s having a poor season in 2014 with a triple-slash line of .201/.319/.366 with 13 home runs in 72 games. Davis, 28, has one more season of arbitration eligibility and will then become a free agent after the 2015 season. Between now and then, the club will face a tough decision on the former Texas Rangers’ future; he’s making more than $10 million this year.
Further complicating matters (or perhaps making the decision easier), 23-year-old first-base prospect Christian Walker is tearing up Double-A. The young hitter features a triple-slash line of .307/.366/.542 in 86 games. Originally known for his ability to hit for average, Walker has seen his power output increase significantly over the past three seasons (Isolated Slugging percentages: .136 in 2012, .155 in 2013 and .235 in 2014) while also maintaining a solid batting average and on-base percentage.
Walker has a respectable walk rate in 2014 at 8.6% but he’s seeing a ton of pitches and often works himself into favorable hitting counts. He shows a good eye, recognizes breaking balls and doesn’t chase bad pitches. Listed at 6-feet and 220 pounds he’s not a huge guy but he generates his power with a relatively short stroke that’s quick to the ball. He maintains his ability to hit for average because of his low-maintenance mechanics, which help him avoid the prolonged slumps than often plague power hitters — as well as a willingness to pepper singles all over the field.
Teams have clearly figured out that Walker’s power is to his pull side, and the Akron (Cleveland Indians) pitchers worked him constantly away in the July 5 matchup. To his credit, he took pitch after pitch and waited for the hurler to make a mistake. Walker has hit just one home run to right field and one to right-center. His remaining 18 home runs in ’14 have gone to left field. Ten of his 15 doubles have been to left field.
Walker failed to make the Orioles Top 15 Prospects list at FanGraphs prior to the 2014 season. Baseball America ranked the first base prospect 18th on their Top 30 pre-season ranking. Now that his pull power is developing, Walker should now fit easily among the Orioles Top 10 prospects on most lists. Despite that fact, he’ll continue to face doubters due to the lack of successful 6-feet-and-under first basemen in Majors. Among the Top 15 first basemen in the Majors (per WAR), only three stand 6-feet or less — Brandon Moss, a converted outfielder; Mike Napoli, a converted catcher; and Carlos Santana, a converted catcher. Both Moss and Santana offer coveted power from the left side.
Even so, don’t expect Walker to come up short in his quest for a big league promotion.
Anthony Alford, OF, Blue Jays (Profile)
Level: Low-A Age: 19 Top-15: N/A Top-100: N/A
Line: 55 PA, .286/.364/.429, 2 HR, 5 SB, 5-17 BB-K
Anthony Alford faces a tough decision as a two-sport athlete splitting his time between professional baseball and college football.
It’s easy to forget about Anthony Alford. Despite being a highly-touted prep prospect prior to the 2012 amateur draft, he turned pro with the Jays but has received fewer than 100 at-bats in three seasons. And no, it’s not because he’s been battling injuries. The athletic outfielder signed a contract that allows him to play college football — as a defensive back (formerly quarterback) — each season at the University of Mississippi (and formerly Southern Mississippi). The soon-to-be-20-year-old prospect reportedly left to prepare for his upcoming college football season after Sunday’s Low-A ball game in Lansing.
In an organization that has struggled to develop home-grown hitters, Alford is an intriguing commodity. The club has already committed a $750,000 bonus, a third-round draft slot (He was arguably a fringe-first-round talent with signability concerns) and conceded at least three years of development to the Mississippi native. Because he’s not a top-of-the-line NFL prospect, Toronto may still be able to sway him to turn his attentions to the diamond on a full-time basis but it will hopefully be sooner rather than later.
At this rate, he’ll continue to fall further and further behind his same-aged peers and he also risks serious injury while playing football. Not only that, he has only two more years of development after this season before the Jays have to decide whether or not to offer him an all-import 40-man roster spot to protect him from the advances of other organizations in the Rule 5 draft.
Interestingly, Alford’s A-ball teammate D.J. Davis has a similar profile as a speedy, athletic outfielder with just enough power to tease the senses. However, although Alford has less than 100 at-bats of pro experience in three seasons, he seems to be further along in his baseball development than the 17th overall pick from the 2012 draft who has just under 800 at-bats.
Imagine what Alford could do if he focused on baseball full time.
Prior to Sunday’s appearance, Alford was hitting .286/.364/.429 through 49 at-bats. A small sample size to be sure, but also impressive considering his lack of experience and split focus. It speaks to his natural athleticism. However, his 17 strikeouts in 13 games displays the glaring need for further development — including repetitions and eye-balling a thousand more breaking balls.
Alford gave scouts a reason to salivate during his first four games in Low-A ball after opening the year in short-season ball. During his first four games in Lansing — leading off — he went 8-for-20 with four stolen bases is as many attempts. He’s shown blazing speed on the base paths with instincts and a quick bat with raw power potential.
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