Former Gamecock Christian Walker has turned line drives into home runs

nwhite@thestate.comJune 23, 2014 

Christian Walker with the Gamecocks at the 2012 College World Series

GERRY MELENDEZ — gmelendez@thestate.com

  • WALKER ON A TEAR

    Former USC first baseman Christian Walker is among the leaders in minor league baseball in home runs and RBIs. He is playing in the Baltimore Orioles organization.

    HOME RUNS

    Player, Teams, Level, No.

    Joey Gallo, Myrtle Beach/Frisco (A/AA), 27

    Kris Bryant, Tennessee/Iowa (AA/AAA), 25

    Adam Duvall, Fresno (AAA), 23

    Peter O’Brien, Tampa/Trenton (A/AA), 23

    Matt Olson, Stockton (A), 19

    Christian Walker, Bowie (AA), 18

    Brad Snyder, Round Rock (AAA), 18

    RBIS

    Player, Teams, Level, No.

    D.J. Peterson, High Desert (A), 71

    Marquez Smith, Bakersfield (A), 67

    Adam Duvall, Fresno (AAA), 66

    Nate Freiman, Sacramento (AAA), 66

    Patrick Kivlehan, High Desert/Jackson (A/AA), 65

    Christian Walker, Bowie (AA), 64

    Joey Gallo, Myrtle Beach/Frisco (A/AA), 64

Christian Walker built a reputation as a feared line-drive hitter during his time at South Carolina before taking his bat to the Baltimore Orioles’ organization.

The first baseman, who routinely drilled balls into the gaps while showing flashes of power in his first two seasons in the minor leagues, has discovered a big-time home-run stroke this season at Bowie (Md.) in the Double-A Eastern League. In 73 games, he leads the league with 18 home runs and 64 RBIs while hitting .314 with a .374 on-base percentage and a .551 slugging percentage.

“I feel like the power was always there. I definitely knew I had the power,” Walker said. “It was just a matter of taking it into the game. It’s all about repetition and being consistent.”

Walker, a fourth-round selection by the Orioles in the 2012 MLB draft, credited some early-season work with roving minor league hitting instructor Jeff Manto for making a difference with his position in the batter’s box and how he loaded his swing.

“Some of the stuff really clicked. There were simple things he suggested, and it was easy for me to translate it into a game swing,” Walker said.

After hitting 13 homers over 125 games the past two seasons, the 6-foot, 220-pound Walker has displayed the type of power that first basemen need to keep progressing toward the major leagues.

He blasted a pair of towering home runs May 26 in Harrisburg, with both landing on the roof of the team store beyond the left-field concourse. That helped him earn Baltimore’s minor league player of the month in May.

Walker, who has recovered from a back injury that slowed him in Bowie at the end of last season, has positioned himself as a lock to play in the Eastern League All-Star Game July 16 in Altoona, Pa.

But he may find himself in the MLB All-Star Futures Game – it’ll be held July 13 at Minnesota’s Target Field this season – with the top prospects from across minor league baseball for the second straight year. It’s that kind of promise that might have him moving to Triple-A Norfolk, Va., before the season is out, although he doesn’t like to look too far ahead.

“I’m extremely pleased, but I definitely want to keep getting better and keep swinging well. It’s hard to predict what’s going to happen a week from now or a few months from now,” said Walker, who’s ranked the No. 13 prospect in the Baltimore organization.

“If I just keep playing and doing what I feel like I’m capable of doing, hopefully, good things will happen. They never really tell you anything.”

A year ago, Walker jumped from low Single-A Delmarva to high Single-A Frederick to Bowie, His final numbers among the three Baltimore affiliates, all Maryland-based, were a .300 average with 27 doubles, 11 homers and 56 RBIs. His success surprised nobody in Columbia, where he played three seasons and left as one of the best players in USC history.

Walker, who still talks to former teammate and roommate Evan Marzilli at least once a week, played a huge role in the Gamecocks’ two national titles. An immediate starter, he batted .336 with 248 hits, ninth on the school’s all-time list, 45 doubles, 30 home runs and 168 RBIs while developing into an All-SEC defender at first base.

He was named to three CWS all-tournament teams and tied an Omaha record with 28 career hits.

He also provided two of the most iconic moments in program history. He hit a three-run homer in the eighth inning of a 10-9 win that clinched the 2010 Super Regional over Coastal Carolina on the road. And he overcame a broken bone to play against Florida in the 2011 CWS finals opener, where his single, stolen base and iconic romp around the bases after back-to-back throwing errors resulted in a 2-1 win in 11 innings.

Walker, a Limerick, Pa., native whose Eastern League schedule has taken him to a number of places where his family can easily travel to see him play, believes he has discovered the perfect calling.

“This is what I was meant to do,” he said. “South Carolina prepared me very well for the next level and set me up for what to expect. Everything is going well right now.”

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