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The St. Louis Cardinals, off to a sluggish 10-14 start that has them situated in last place in the National League Central, made several roster moves ahead of Wednesday's series finale against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Most notable among those was the decision to demote outfielder and former top prospect Jordan Walker to Triple-A Memphis. (The Cardinals also farmed out lefty Zack Thompson to create room on the 26-player roster for the newly promoted  duo of infielder José Fermín and southpaw John King.)

Walker, 21, has been mired in a miserable slump to open the year. Through 20 games, he batted .155/.239/.259 (41 OPS+) with no home runs and five extra-base hits. He had been benched in two of the Cardinals' last three games, then received a start at DH on Tuesday night, going 0 for 3 with a strikeout and a hit by pitch in a 14-1 defeat.

The demotion is well-timed, if nothing else. Friday, April 26, will mark a year since Walker was demoted after shockingly making the 2023 Opening Day roster. He would return to the majors on June 2, and from that point onward he hit .277/.346/.455 with 14 home runs in 97 games. It's fair to conclude that the Cardinals were hoping for more of that from Walker to begin this year. Alas, few developmental arcs are so pristine.

You might be wondering just how Walker finds himself again on the wrong side of the big-league, minor-league divide -- and if there's reason to believe he can live up to the promise that once earned him consideration as one of the game's top prospects. Below, CBS Sports has covered four things worth knowing about his struggles and his future.

1. Underlying data mostly positive

Let's play a game. Which of these batters would you rather have in your lineup?

PlayerAverage exit velocityHard-hit%Barrel%Chase%Whiff%

Batter A

91.7 mph





Batter B

89.4 mph





Our guess is that you would prefer Batter A, and that it's not particularly close. Why wouldn't you? They hit the ball harder on average than Batter B, they barrel the ball more frequently than Batter B, and they maintain their zone and make contact at better rates than Batter B. It's such an easy question that you just know there's a trick to it.

There is. Here's our telegraphed uppercut: both hitters are Walker.

Batter A represents Walker's 2024 season, while Batter B is his 2023 effort. If all you had to go off was his advanced metrics, you'd probably conclude that he's in the midst of a breakout season. Insead, he has nothing to show for it except a flight to Memphis.

So, how does a batter improve in all of those ways without boosting their statline? It has to do with where the ball is being hit.

2. Spray remains issue

Walker has faced questions about his spray dating back to his prospect days. The belief among evaluators who have spoken to CBS Sports on the topic is that it's easier to teach a batter to lift the ball more often than it is to teach them to impact the ball more often. That's consistent with Walker being universally held as one of the best offensive prospects in the game.

Unfortunately, Walker remains a work in progress. His average launch angle has ticked up, from 10.2 degrees to 12.8 degrees, but that doesn't mean the shift has been fruitful. Rather, Walker is actually hitting more grounders (50% versus 46.9%) and fewer balls in the "sweet spot" between 10 and 30 degrees (28.6% versus 33.6%). 

To put it another way, Walker has been playing pepper with opposing third basemen: 


There's another trend worth pointing out from that spray chart: Walker isn't pulling the ball for power in the air. Of his four extra-base hits to left field, every single one of them came on a ground ball that squeezed between the fielder and the foul line. He hasn't so much as pulled a line drive or fly ball to left. This right here is the closest he's come, and it's fair to classify it as a line drive to left-center field -- not left field itself

Walker's main selling point is his prodigious power. Those kinds of hitters should be hitting the ball hard and high to their pull side. For as long as everything he pulls is being topped, he's not going to live up to his middle-of-the-order potential. That's important to note because ....

3. Limited skill set doesn't help

Let's face it. Walker doesn't bring a ton to the table outside of his offense. He's more athletic for his size than you might anticipate (he ranks in the 80th percentile in sprint speed), but he doesn't cause havoc on the basepaths and last season he graded as one of the worst defenders in all of Major League Baseball. Even if he's improved to a scratch level, that's not enough for teams to move heaven and hell to keep the player in the lineup if they aren't producing at the plate.

The onus, then, is very much on Walker's bat. It's what will get him played and paid at the big-league level. The good news is that his issues seem fixable; the bad news is they remain problematic despite not being novel. Perhaps whatever tweaks the Cardinals have in mind for him at Memphis will take. We'll see.

4. Cardinals need offensive boost

The decision to demote Walker probably wasn't an easy one for the Cardinals to make. The herky-jerky nature of his development hasn't been ideal, even if each step has made sense at the time it was taken. There's no telling if or how much that'll hinder him moving forward. Still, it's a risk the Cardinals had to take to salvage this season.

It's no stretch to write that the Cardinals have one of the worst offenses in baseball. They enter Wednesday ranked 26th in runs scored and 27th in wRC+. Walker wasn't alone in not hitting: Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Gorman, Michael Siani, and Alec Burleson all have an OPS+ below 80. To come at the Cardinals' woes from a different angle: Brendan Donovan's 86 mark, while well beneath his norms, ranks fifth on the team among qualifiers. It's never a good sign when a would-be horrific personal performance looks respectable in comparison to the rest of the lineup.

Realistically, the Cardinals can't demote every hitter who has struggled for the first month. What they can do is pick their spots where they have depth and where the player has minor-league options remaining. That's why Victor Scott II was sent to the farm after a putrid 20-game introduction, and that's why Walker is joining him. 

Despite this setback, Walker is far from a lost cause. He's just not someone who needs to be on the big-league roster right now. That can change in a matter of weeks. The Cardinals can only hope it does -- the best version of their club includes him.