Things have not gone as planned for Christian Walker. Drafted out of the University of South Carolina in the fourth round of the 2012 draft, Walker was a first baseman who put up very good numbers in 2013 and 2014. He worked his way through all five levels of the minors in those two years and even got a cup of coffee with the Orioles at the end of ‘14.
Pretty good, right? Yes, but the two years since then haven’t been as kind to Walker. A full year at triple-A in 2015 saw his OPS drop just about 100 points from his 2014 season that stretched across double-A and triple-A. He did manage to hit 18 home runs, which isn’t bad for Harbor Park, but generally his offensive numbers dropped across the board.
The Orioles gave Walker another taste of the majors in seven games at the end of the 2015 season. He didn’t hit well in either chance in the majors, but given that it’s a total of 31 plate appearances across two years we won’t hold that against him.
Walker’s 2015 season was a disappointment, and then something bad happened for him during the off season: the Orioles signed Chris Davis to a long-term deal. That blocked Walker for the foreseeable future, so it was in spring training the following year that Walker made it clear to Buck Showalter and the coaches that he was ready and willing to play a new position. And thus the outfield career of Christian Walker has begun.
And how is he in the outfield? Unfortunately there aren’t many sources on that, but his coach Ron Johnson says: “His routes and breaks are good, he’s got good instincts, he’s a good athlete which really helps so there’s no doubt in my mind that he’s going to make himself a very serviceable left fielder.”
The bad thing for Walker is that his repeat of triple-A in 2016 did nothing for his offense. His hitting line of .264/.321/.437 with 18 home runs was nearly identical to what he did in 2015.
Walker remains on the 40-man roster, but when September rolled around and the rosters expanded, his name wasn’t called. He’s now 25 years old and will turn 26 before Opening Day next year, which means he’s dangerously close to being labeled a career minor leaguer.
Walker’s stock has definitely fallen, but that doesn’t mean his future doesn’t include the major leagues. If he can play a corner outfield position and first base, he could be a bench option. And frankly, the Orioles might need outfielders next year. I will say, though, that if the Orioles start 2016 as one of their primary outfielders, they probably did something wrong.