He is the leading hitter in the Orioles minor leagues and he’s been doing very well at two levels this season.
Christian Walker, the club’s fourth-round pick last June out of the University of South Carolina, began this season pounding baseballs for low Single-A Delmarva. Moved to high Single-A Frederick May 12, he picked up in the Carolina League right where he left off in the South Atlantic League.
“He just needs to continue the process and the day-to-day grind,” O’s director of player development Brian Graham said. “I think it’s important that he looks up at the end of the year and gets 450 at-bats and learned how to play the game defensively at first base, handle the rigors mentally and physically of playing every day. This is his first full season. There are huge adjustments for players coming to pro ball to play every day. You don’t do that in college or other levels of competition.”
With Delmarva, Walker was batting .353 with three homers, 20 RBIs and an .894 OPS. With Frederick, he is hitting .348 with three homers, 18 RBIs and a .915 OPS while batting .394 with runners in scoring position. He ranks fourth in the organization with 38 RBIs.
“He understands the strike zone and uses the whole field to hit,” Graham said. “The majority of the time, he gets a good pitch to hit and he has the ability to fight off tough pitches. Hitters that can do that are usually pretty good hitters.”
Walker was the Orioles minor league Player of the Month for April. He batted .360 with three home runs and 16 RBIs with the Shorebirds. He hit safely in 18 of 24 games and had 11 multi-hit games.
The 22-year-old Walker, from Limerick, Pa., was the 132nd player selected in the 2012 draft after he had played on national championship teams in 2010 and 2011 at South Carolina. He began his pro career last summer at short-season Single-A Aberdeen, batting .284 in 22 games.
While the hits have been coming in bunches, Walker has hit just six homers in 59 games.
“That is not a concern right now,” Graham said. “When you look at young hitters early in their careers, you look for guys to learn how to hit first and power is the last thing to come.
“We don’t look at Christian Walker and say, ‘Boy, I hope he hits a lot of home runs.’ We look at him and say, ‘I hope he continues to progress like he is in having good at-bats, staying in the strike zone and using the whole field to hit.’ That is our thought process in developing good hitters.”
How is Walker on defense at first?
“He’s making strides. He’s done a good job, but he definitely needs to improve as well,” Graham said. “It’s reacting to the ball off the bat, it’s lateral range, picking balls in the dirt - a pretty big area of things that he is continuing to get better at.
“There is definitely enough physical ability (to play good defense)and the work ethic is terrific. It is just a matter of experience.”
O’s minor league batting leaders:
.351 - Christian Walker, Frederick
.350 - Henry Urrutia, Bowie
.329 - Jason Pridie, Norfolk
.316 - Travis Ishikawa, Norfolk