Prospect Retro: Todd Walker
Todd Walker was a star at Louisiana State University, MVP of the 1993 College World Series as a sophomore. The Twins drafted him in the first round of the 1994 draft, and he adjusted very quickly to pro ball, hitting .304 with 10 homers, 32 walks, and just 15 strikeouts in 171 at-bats for Fort Myers in the Florida State League after signing. Scouts loved his quick swing from the left side. He also had speed, above average power for a middle infielder, sound strike zone judgment, and a knack for hard contact. His defense at second base was not well-regarded, but it was expected that his bat would carry him.
The Twins moved Walker to Double-A in 1995, and he did very well, hitting .290 with 21 homers, 23 steals, 63 walks, and 101 strikeouts in 137 games, 513 at-bats. He did this at New Britain, which at that time played as an extreme pitcher's park. I gave him a Grade A- in the 1996 book, rating him as the Number 14 prospect in baseball. I fully expected him to develop into a potential batting champion.
Walker moved up to Triple-A Salt Lake in 1996, hitting .339/.400/.599 with 41 doubles, 28 homers, 111 RBI, 57 walks, and 91 strikeouts in 551 at-bats. Yes, this was the PCL, and Walker struggled at times against lefties, but he still impressed scouts, and was very hot late in the year. Due to the presence of Chuck Knoblauch, the Twins moved him to third base, expecting him to be their regular hot corner player starting in 1997. He hit .256/.281/.329 in a late-season trial, but clearly had nothing left to prove in the minors. I gave him another Grade A-.
Walker began 1997 as the third baseman, but got off to a slow start and was sent back to the minors in May. He hit .345 in 83 games for Salt Lake, then returned to Minnesota in September and hit .364 the final month. Walker felt that the Twins, particularly manager Tom Kelly, had given up on him too quickly that spring. Kelly publicly criticized Walker's defensive skills, and the two didn't seem to get along very well. It is interesting to note that Walker had an excellent reputation for work ethic and "intangibles" before 1997.
The Twins traded Knoblauch that winter and moved Walker back to second base. He responded by leading the American League in hitting for much of the summer of '98, finishing with a .316/.372/.473 mark including 41 doubles. Although Walker's defensive statistics at second base were average, he was continually criticized for his defense by Kelly.
Walker's '99 season was a disappointment, as he hit just .279 and with much less power than the previous year. The Twins continued to bash his defense as well. A slow start in 2000 saw Walker demoted to Triple-A to work on his glove. This caused uproar in the clubhouse, and a public war of words between Kelly and his staff and several of the Twins' younger players, including Walker. Blacklisted in Minnesota, Walker was traded to Colorado that summer, beginning his trek through the rosters of the Rockies, Reds, Red Sox, and now the Cubs.
Walker has proven to be a solid hitter for average, with occasional spikes of power. He's lost most of his speed, and continues to have a reputation for poor defense. While he did not develop into the batting champion that I expected, he is a useful complementary player. Where did things go wrong with the assessment of Walker? His minor league career showed him as a .275-.295 hitter with moderate power at the major league level. Someone with that profile at age 23-24 has a good chance to develop into a consistent .300-.320 hitter given a normal growth curve. What we didn't know was that Walker was as good at age 25 as he would ever be.
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