The Chicago White Sox dealt from a position of depth at the Winter Meetings, as Steele Walker was sent to the Texas Rangers in exchange for left-handed hitting outfielder Nomar Mazara. The Sox are losing a 23-year-old who compiled a .265/.338/.423 slash line across 164 minor league games.
Walker reached as high as Advanced-A in the Sox system following his selection in the second round of the 2018 MLB draft. He got off to a slow start in his first 44 games as a professional after a demanding season collegiately in the Big 12. Ultimately, the left-handed hitting outfielder belted five home runs and hit .209 with a .613 OPS in the Arizona League, Great Falls and Kannapolis.
The Sox assigned Walker to Kannapolis to begin 2019 with the hopes that a full offseason would allow him a chance to reset and tap into his potential. He made the leap to Winston-Salem after reaching base in 18 of his 20 games and notched a healthy 1.018 OPS in low-A.
After an initial blip in the month of May, Walker showed flashes of why the White Sox drafted him No. 46 overall. His eight home runs, 21 doubles and 40 RBI across 74 games from June-to-August was a welcomed sight, but, in the end, Walker’s first full professional season was less than encouraging based on the expectations attached to his development.
Walker's skillset checked a lot of boxes at the time of his draft selection. At 5’11, 190-pounds, the Oklahoma product offers a powerful swing path that generates line drives when everything is working. On top of his raw power, Walker was scouted to create a high volume of contact accompanied with a keen eye at the plate. He finished his tenure with the White Sox with a 16 percent strikeout rate and nearly a nine percent walk rate.
When Walker connects, the sound is loud off the barrel. Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs mentioned in an article that, “43% of his balls in play last year were hit over 95 mph.” However, Longenhagen also mentioned a concern with Walker’s swing by noting: “He can turn on balls in, but anything away from the short-levered Walker he tends to either punch somewhere or roll over the top of.”
Our Julie Brady interviewed Walker in August while he was in Winston-Salem and shared first-hand insight on his power stroke.
"It’s just about driving the ball," Walker told Julie. "If I hit a back side double, the worst thing you can do is the next day try to hit a pull side home run. Your swing’s in the right place, the home runs happen. The home runs, if you have enough power, my swing, the home runs will happen. Especially if the doubles are happening.”
He also possesses above average speed that plays to the strength of a centerfielder, but realistically projects as a corner outfielder. The White Sox played Walker exclusively in centerfield across his 100 games in Winston-Salem when he wasn’t a DH.
What it comes down to in the case of Steele Walker is the Sox necessity to find production from a big-league outfielder immediately. Walker was among a sea of prospects within the system at a position that can typically be acquired via free agency or, as we recently saw, trade. There are questions surrounding his development pace. He will likely begin the year in Double-A next season with Texas, but he is at least a year away from being added to a 40-man roster.
Another factor that certainly played into the trade is Walker’s splits. He slashed .309/.391/.495 against right-handed pitching compared to .223/.280/.338 against lefties in his career. Our James Fox may have put it perfectly.
Nomar Mazara will be 25 in April. Steele Walker will be 24 next August. Mazara can't hit lefties in the big leagues. Walker can't hit lefties in the Carolina League. #WhiteSox
— James Fox (@JamesFox917) December 11, 2019
Mazara jumps into the fray as an immediate upgrade in right field as the roster currently stands. He has been incredibly consistent across his four-year Major League career putting up nearly identical production in statistical categories across the board. His strength at the plate lies primarily against right-handed pitching, where 64 of his career 79 homers have occurred.
The White Sox are in a favorable position when it comes down to their control over Mazara, who is owed $5.7 million in arbitration with a second year of control attached. The 25-year-old left-handed slugger won’t jump off the page to anyone, but the upside allows the White Sox to hopefully benefit from a guy who can draw walks and mash right-handers.
That being said, personally, I would be a bit discouraged should Mazara turn out to be the planned everyday right fielder by Opening Day. With a 26-man roster implemented in 2019, the Sox could get creative with their depth and potentially add another bat to offer stronger consistency at the position – especially against left-handed pitching.
Steele Walker was incredibly personable and accommodating to us at FutureSox. We appreciated covering him across his professional career with the White Sox and hope a change of scenery allows him to reach the big leagues either as a Ranger, or elsewhere.
For more information on Walker, read our scouting report.
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