.300 / .362 / .453. That was Christian Walker's combined slash line over 3 levels of competition in 2013. Drafted in the 4th round of the 2012 draft out of the University of South Carolina, that 2013 campaign saw him lay waste to the South Atlantic League while with Delmarva, the Carolina League while with Frederick, and then a brief 'get-your-feet-wet' stint with Bowie to end the season.
Many in the prospecting world viewed his 2013 as a case of an advanced college hitter feasting on less polished minor league pitching; with particular concern reserved for Walker's ultimate power potential. In his 2014 Orioles Top Prospects list John Sickles summed up this view in his blurb on Walker:
17) Christian Walker, 1B, Grade C+: Borderline C. Polished University of South Carolina product ripped A-ball pitching, hit .300/.362/.453 overall despite Double-A slump. Scouts wonder if he’ll have enough power for a big league first baseman.
Walker also failed to break Baseball Prospectus' Top 10 Orioles list, but did get a mention in the 'Factors on the Farm' section. It was a similar case with Keith Law's list, as well as MLB.com's list where Walker was ranked the O's 15th best prospect and 5th best offensive prospect.
Enter 2014. Walker put scouts on notice right from the start, hitting .333 / .366 / .524 with 5 HRs during the month of April with Bowie. He earned his first of two Minor League Player of the Week awards with his performance during the week of April 14th. Perhaps he was just having an early season hot streak? Nope. He followed that April up with a blistering May where he slashed Eastern League pitching to the tune of .308 / .403 / .607 with 9 dingers, and oh...just a 15:19 BB:K ratio. On May 19th he added his second PotW award after hitting .458 / .500 / .833 with 3 doubles and 2 HRs during the week.
At this point it was relatively clear that he was ready to move up to AAA, but the O's let him savor his success for another month and a half before leveling him up to Norfolk. He would finish his 2014 time at AA with a formidable line of .301 / .367 / .516 with 110 hits in 95 games and 20 HRs. That's pretty decent.
He would not bend to the increased level of competition, hitting .273 / .382 / .455 with 2 HRs and a 10:15 BB:K ratio over his first 15 games. Though he would struggle during the dog-days of August, he would close out his 2014 minor league season with a strong .892 OPS over his final week. His final 2014 stat line across both AA and AAA: .288 / .357 / .489. But his season would not quite be finished just yet...
On September 4th, Walker was recognized with the Brooks Robinson Award as the Orioles Minor League Player of the Year. He was also sent to the Orioles' complex in Sarasota to take part in a mini-camp in order to stay in game shape should a need arise with the major league club. And did a need ever arise with the announcement of a 25 game suspension for Chris Davis after he tested positive for amphetamine use. Not wanting to bring Walker up and place him into high tension playoff race situation, the organization left him in Sarasota for the time being. The day after wrapping up a playoff berth and the Division title on September 16th it was announced that Walker would be added to the active roster.
From Low-A to the Major Leagues within 2 seasons. That's pretty good. And now Walker has the opportunity to be the first homegrown Orioles 1B prospect to become a regular since...David Segui arrived in 1990? Since Eddie Murray arrived in 1977? It's been a longtime coming. The question of just how impactful his bat can be at the major league level will remain until he proves himself. Can he be the future replacement for Chris Davis? Time will tell. But he's made it. And that's the first step. Congratulations to Christian Walker!