|Image courtesy of Craig Gordon|
Last season Kris Bryant and Joey Gallo were hitting home runs out of minor league parks at an alarming rate. Now each of these minor league home run leaders is making their mark at the big league level.
With Bryant and Gallo graduated to baseball's highest level, there will almost certainly be a new minor league home run champion this season. Twins prospect Adam Brett Walker is in the running for this title after a quick start to his season. He's hitting home runs at one of the best rates of his career and he leads all of minor league baseball after clubbing his sixteenth home run on Tuesday night.
Hitting home runs isn't something new for Walker. He has been leaving his mark on every league as he has moved up a level each season since being drafted in the third round of the 2012 MLB Draft. He's also been younger than the hitters at each level including being a year younger than the hitters in the Southern League this season.
During his professional debut, Walker only played 58 games but he was able to crank 14 home runs and compile a .805 OPS. He made the jump to the Midwest League in 2013 and hit a career high 27 home runs and combined for a .844 OPS. The Florida State League can be tough on hitters but Walker still managed to hit 25 home runs but his OPS dropped a little over 100 points.
Walker has been on a tear to start the 2015 campaign. He's hitting .263/.317/.902 with 32 extra-base hits in 55 games. His highest OPS in any season so far has been .844 back in 2013. His 16 home runs are well on pace to break his career high of 27 long balls. He leads the Southern League in home runs, RBI, and slugging percentage.
Even with the hot start to the season, Walker's prospect status does come with some flaws. His batting average continues to be low, a below .260 career batting average, even as he hits for a lot of power. His big swing also results in loads of strikeouts. He struck out 115 times in 2013 and he struck out 156 times, more than once a game, in 2014. This year he has already struck out 80 times in 224 plate appearances.
Walker's defense has also been a cause for concern as he's shown a tendency to rack up errors on the defensive side of the ball. Walker has a career .969 fielding percentage with most of his time spent in right field. His career high in errors was 2014 when he was charged with six. This season he already has four errors but he is playing left field for the first time in his professional career.
As Walker gets closer to the big leagues and faces more experienced pitchers, it seems likely for his strikeout rate and contact rate to continue to decline. His first taste of the high minors is off to a fast start but there are still areas of his game to improve. If he could make more consistent contact and cut back on some of his defensive miscues, his prospect stock would continue to rise.
Walker might get lost in the shuffle of other big name prospects in the Twins system but his strong start to 2015 is something to watch. He keeps hitting the ball out of the park and that's something that can keep a player moving through an organization's farm system so don't forget his name.