The Cardinals are planning to recall top outfield prospect Jordan Walker from Triple-A Memphis, reports Jeff Jones of the Belleville News-Democrat (Twitter link). He’ll be back in the majors for Friday’s series opener in Pittsburgh. The Cards will presumably announce their corresponding active roster move tomorrow.
Walker returns for a second MLB stint. The 21-year-old broke camp with St. Louis and started in right field on Opening Day. He wasn’t completely overmatched in his first month. Walker made headlines for a 12-game hitting streak early on and hit a roughly league average .274/.321/.397 through 20 contests.
Nevertheless, St. Louis made the decision to send him back to the minors at the end of April. Walker’s defensive marks weren’t good and his solid slash line belied mounting chase and ground-ball rates at the dish. The demotion wasn’t especially alarming considering Walker’s youth and that St. Louis had jumped him directly from Double-A to the majors in the first place.
While the former first-round pick got off to a bit of a slow start in Memphis, he’s turned things on of late. Walker is hitting .267/.376/.433 over his past 23 games, drawing free passes at a robust 11.9% clip against a decent 21.1% strikeout rate. His 44.6% grounder percentage in Triple-A is well shy of the 60.4% rate at which he put the ball on the ground in the majors.
The Cardinals determined he’s ready for another look at the highest level. St. Louis’ outfield has thinned over the past few weeks. Tyler O’Neill and Dylan Carlson both landed on the injured list since Walker was optioned. O’Neill seems without a clear return timetable as he battles lingering back issues.
Utilityman Brendan Donovan has gotten the bulk of the right field work lately but can bounce around the diamond. Primary left fielder Alec Burleson has struggled to a .237/.289/.397 line on the year, including a meager .245/.293/.340 showing in May. The Cardinals are carrying Óscar Mercado on the MLB roster as a depth outfielder but have only given him five starts since selecting his contract two weeks ago. Mercado’s ability to back up Lars Nootbaar in center field gives him more defensive value than Burleson, though the Cards gave Tommy Edman his first career start there earlier in the week.
Walker will surely be in the lineup on a regular basis now that he’s back in the majors, probably most directly impacting Burleson’s playing time. While he’ll again be paid at the MLB minimum rate and collect service time, the option is likely to push back his path to free agency. Walker spent over a month in the minors and won’t get the 172 days on an MLB roster that’d get him a full service year this season.
Unless he earns “bonus” service time by finishing in the top two in NL Rookie of the Year balloting, he won’t be on track to reach free agency until after the 2029 season. If he’s in the majors from here on out, he’d qualify for early arbitration as a Super Two player following the ’25 campaign. Future minor league assignments could alter that path, of course. This is the first of three years in which Walker can be optioned.