When the Cardinals opened the regular season with 20-year-old rookie Jordan Walker in right field, his initiation was a celebration.

The No. 1 prospect was an immediate hit with the fans. He was a hit on the field. He hit pitchers. He tied a major-league record for the longest hitting streak (12 games) by a player at the start of a career.

All players deal with pressure, but it was different with Walker. He had a lot to look forward to, but most reasonable people assumed it would take time. It isn’t easy to go from Double A baseball and straight to the majors … not even the most heralded of prospects.

Eventually Walker would become a luminous long-term presence in a Cardinal uniform. He’d be in line to become the face of the franchise. He’d be the best home-grown hitter for the Cardinals since Albert Pujols vaulted onto the big-league stage in 2001. Walker would flourish as one of top hitters in baseball for a decade or more. A young player doesn’t worry about such eminent goals; he just wants to get settled in, get to work, and help the Cardinals win.

The Cardinals didn’t need Walker right away. They were overstocked with outfielders: Tyler O’Neill, Lars Nootbaar, Dylan Carlson, Alec Burleson and Walker. That was only part of it. Utility instrument Brendan Donovan can play outfield. Tommy Edman can play outfield. Juan Yepez was at Triple A Memphis, hoping to get a call from the Cardinals and a chance to play outfield.

The talent was abundant – or so we thought – but a manager can’t accommodate a sprawling contingent of outfielders with a sufficient number of at-bats. With so many options, a rookie outfielder wasn’t expected to carry the team. Not right away. Not even Jordan Walker.

That’s why I say the Cards didn’t really need him at the starting point of 2023. If his first stop was Triple A Memphis, fine. Walker would be in St. Louis soon enough. But the Cardinals succumbed to the temptation of rushing Walker to the bigs, went all-in, and it didn’t take long for trouble to find him.

If the Cardinals didn’t need Jordan Walker then, they sure do need him now.

He’s been recalled from Memphis and will join the Cards in time for their weekend series at Pittsburgh.

Walker is more than just another option. The team must depend on him now. Their outfield choices are more limited and not as appealing.

As Walker reenters the picture, the Cardinals have three outfielders on the IL:  O’Neill, Nootbaar and Carlson.

Make way for Edman in center, at least until Carlson returns.

And make a lot of room for big Jordan Walker in the lineup.

O’Neill is injured (again) and out of favor, Carlson is below-average offensively. Nootbaar has rolled up a terrific onbase percentage but his power is down. Burleson – Walker’s fellow rookie – is improving but isn’t a booming bat just yet.

The Cardinals have filled the empty outfield spaces with minor-leaguer Oscar Mercado, Donovan, Yepez and Edman. It isn’t his fault, but manager Oli Marmol’s many outfield combinations haven’t produced much offense.

Since Walker played his final game for the Cardinals (April 23) before heading to Memphis, here’s where the St. Louis outfield ranks in the key offensive categories among the 30 outfield groups:

Batting average: .242 … 20th.
Onbase percentage: .317 … 17th
Slugging percentage: .351 … 28th
Onbase plus slugging: .668 … 25th
Adjusted runs created: 89 … 25th
Doubles: 15 … 27th
Home runs: 8 … 26th
RBI:  43 … 22nd


STL management came into the season with confidence, believing the outfield would provide above-average offense with considerable power. That hasn’t happened. Instead there’s been physical breakdowns and underachieving performances. And the STL outfield defense is the second-worst in the majors according to Fielding Bible.

On April 26, the Cardinals optioned Walker to Memphis to modify his swing, hoping that he’d take his hard-hitting power from the ground to the air. At that point Walker had the most plate appearances by a St. Louis outfielder – but some horrible trends were developing.

Walker’s ground-ball rate after his first 20 MLB games was 60.4 percent – the fifth-highest among major-league hitters at the time. His fly-ball rate (22.6%) was the sixth-lowest in MLB.

To perform to the max, Walker can’t be a chronic ground-ball hitter. He’s so much better than that. Moreover, Walker was chasing too many pitches (40.5%) and had to sharpen his plate discipline. These habits – if ignored – would prevent Walker from fulfilling his immense potential

After the ho-hum start at Memphis, Walker emerged from his disappointment after being sent down. He dug in, regrouped and made the necessary adjustments. He also turned 21 years old on May 22.

In his last 15 games at Memphis, Walker batted .312, had a .403 onbase percentage, slugged .541 and put up a .944 OPS. In 72 plate appearances over that time, he doubled five times, hit three homers and knocked in 13 runs.

In this potential 15-game turning point in Memphis, Walker’s walk rate grew to 11 percent over that time – a sign of enhanced strike-zone judgment. In his first three weeks with the Cardinals Walker had 20 strikeouts and only three walks. He had more K/BB balance in Triple A.

There was clear evidence of progress in Walker’s problematic areas.

1. For the Cardinals, Walker had that 60.4% groundball rate, which improved to 44.5% at Memphis. He’ll have to do better than that in his return to the majors; this season the overall MLB ground-ball rate is 42.5%.

2. Walker had a 22.6% fly ball rate for the Cardinals, but that increased to 30% at Memphis. The MLB average is 37%, but at least he’s entered air space more often and is heading in the right direction.

3. His 17% line-drive rate for the Cardinals jumped to 25.3% at Memphis.

4. Walker’s swinging-strike rate went from 16.5% for St. Louis, and dropped to 11.4% for Memphis.

5. There’s this information from the respected baseball analyst R.J. Anderson of CBS Sports:

“It’s worth noting that Walker’s ball-tracking data provides some reason for optimism: his average launch angle in Triple-A (11.3 degrees) was more than eight degrees superior to the 2.7 mark he posted in the majors,” Anderson wrote. “Lifting the ball more often has long been a key for him to tap into his immense raw power. His average exit velocity was also improved, by nearly two ticks, on the minor-league side.”

Two negatives: (A) Walker’s corner-outfield defense isn’t good … good at all. And that didn’t change during Triple A month at Memphis. And (B) Walker hit a lot more pop-ups in Triple A than he did as a Cardinal. But a pop-up plague is understandable for a young hitter that struggled initially while trying to loft more pitches.

Some factors in Walker’s upturn were inevitable. He went from Double A baseball in 2022 to facing big-league pitching early this season, and it’s no surprise to see him doing well against Triple A pitching after needing time to reset following his demotion.

As Walker reconnects with the Cardinals, he should benefit from fine-tuning his mechanics in Triple A. It will be important for Walker to take more walks to force pitchers into throwing more strikes. He’s capable of doing this. He’s capable of doing anything. We’re happy that he’s coming back. His team needs him.

Thanks for reading …

Have a fantastic weekend …


Bernie invites you to listen to his sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.

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Listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast on the Cardinals, featuring Will Leitch and Miklasz. It’s available on your preferred podcast platform. Or follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.

All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant, Bill James Online and Baseball Prospectus.

Bernie Miklasz

Bernie Miklasz

For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.