Christian Walker has typically been able to get off to a hot start throughout his career, before going through ups and downs throughout a season.
This year the former South Carolina baseball star again got off to a hot start, but unlike past years, he hasn’t cooled off.
Walker has one of the most impressive stat lines of any player in professional baseball in 2017. He’s hitting .312 with 32 home runs and 112 RBIs for the Reno Aces, the Triple A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks organization.
Earlier this month, he became the first player in pro baseball to reach 100 RBIs. Last weekend, he set Reno’s single-season home run record by hitting his 31st homer.
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Walker also has 34 doubles and eight triples on the year and has an incredible OPS of 1.001.
“It’s been a great season. It’s been an honor to go for the home run record and all of that stuff,” Walker recently told The State. “This season has been a product of a lot of hard work. A lot of people helping me out.”
Walker believes the success he is having now is a byproduct of the work he started putting in at the end of 2015.
The first baseman had a strong season in Triple-A for the Norfolk Tides of the Orioles organization and made his MLB debut near the end of that year. But Walker was unable to translate his minor league success to the Major League level and finished 1-for-9 in seven games.
“I knew there was more in the tank. I felt like I had something to prove,” Walker said.
He met up with a friend in his home state of Pennsylvania during the offseason and the two broke down Walker’s swing and searched for ways to improve it. They compared it with swings of power hitters that had consistent success in Major League Baseball and worked to make Walker’s swing more like theirs.
“I’m an aggressive hitter, so naturally I want to jump at the baseball. I want to go after the baseball and attack the baseball. The big thing for me is controlling my body and still being aggressive and still swinging as hard as I can and trying to do damage, but just having some more control,” Walker said. “Being under control allows me to be a little more selective at the plate and get a better pitch to hit. It also allows me to keep my bat in the zone longer. It gives me a little more room for error on tough pitches. For whatever reason, it’s just been clicking for me pretty well this year.”
Walker has had short stretches of bad at-bats, but he has been able to snap out of his funks instead of having them linger for weeks at a time.
“I never really had a time of panic or extreme struggling,” Walker said. “It seemed like I would feel something and make an adjustment and it would click right away for me. I think it’s a product of a couple of years of really hard work and breaking down my swing and just understanding my swing and over the course of a long season. That’s what it’s all about, is making those little adjustments like that.”
While Walker’s tweaked swing and approach has resulted in incredible stats, it hasn’t led to him being called up to Major League Baseball.
Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt is an MVP candidate and is hitting .316 with 30 homers and 101 RBIs.
For now, Walker is patiently waiting for another opportunity to prove that he is a better player than he was a couple of years ago, and he is ready to translate his minor league success to Major League Baseball.
“I understand it’s a business and Paul Goldschmidt is at first base ahead of me and obviously it’s hard to make room at this point. The first year with a new organization I had to assume there was going to be a period of time where I’d have to prove myself and show everybody what I’m capable of,” Walker said.
“It’s not necessarily frustrating. I’m having a good year. I’m doing everything I wanted to do at the plate.”
Walker played mostly first base at South Carolina and has remained there throughout most of his minor-league career.
He did spend time playing left field in Triple-A last season and has worked in left field and at third base occasionally this year.
Walker is confident that he can have success on the corner infield or in left field in MLB and is hoping to get an opportunity to show that soon.
“The funny thing about baseball is there’s not really too much of a heads up of what’s to come. You’ve just got to show up and play hard every day and just trust that it’s part of the process,” Walker said.
If there is anyone who understands that moves in baseball can be unpredictable it’s Walker.
In spring training he went from the Orioles to the Braves to the Reds to the Diamondbacks before sticking with Arizona’s organization and being sent to Triple-A Reno.
“It was definitely a crazy process for sure. It was a great learning experience for myself, though,” Walker said. “Coming up playing for the Orioles, that was the only organization I was familiar with. Getting to see four in one month was a learning opportunity.”
After bouncing around so much he left spring training feeling like he had something to prove. Walker has shown what kind of hitter he is throughout the 2017 season and wants to finish strong – whether it’s in Triple-A or with the Diamondbacks.
“I just want to stay consistent. I want to finish out the year. It’s been a great year for me so far, but I don’t want to let up now,” Walker said.
A look at Walker’s season
Key numbers for former USC star Christian Walker this season with the Class AAA Reno (Nev.) Aces, an affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks:
On the road again
A look at Walker’s moves in 2017:
Feb. 21: Baltimore Orioles designated Walker for assignment
Feb. 25: Atlanta Braves claimed Walker off waivers from Orioles
Match 6: Cincinnati Reds claimed Walker off waivers from Braves
March 22: Reds optioned Walker to Class AAA Louisville Bats
March 28: Arizona Diamondbacks claimed Walker off waivers from Reds
March 30: Diamondbacks sent Walker to Class AAA Reno Aces