— Shawn McFarland (@McFarland_Shawn) July 5, 2017
CARY, N.C.—Some call it swagger. Some call it flair or bravado.
Whatever the word is, Steele Walker’s got it.
From his dyed blonde hair—inspired by Brazilian soccer star Neymar—to his strut to the lefthanded batter’s box at home plate, Walker carries himself with self-assurance and pizzazz that sticks out on the diamond.
“He’s got a little flamboyance about him,” Collegiate National Team manager John Savage said. “A little showman about him, very confident. He has a little edge.”
Walker’s coach at Prosper (Texas) High, Rick Carpenter, saw the same traits in Walker. While Carpenter couldn’t quite find the exact words to describe Walker’s personality on and off the field, he settled on “confident” and “bubbly.”
“When he gets in that box, when he steps on that field, when he walks down the hallways at school, he’s a very confident kid,” Carpenter said. “He comes across strong sometimes I think, but he’s a very humble kid.”
Walker batted .290 with 17 doubles and three home runs as a freshman at Oklahoma. He followed that with a .333 average, 16 doubles and eight homers in 59 games this season.
This summer, Walker is flashing his talents for the Collegiate National Team. He was the MVP of the team’s International Friendship series against both Taiwan and Cuba.
The results, he said, stem from a carefree approach to the game.
“The older you get, the more pressure there is, the more eyes are watching, the more that’s at stake, but even more so, you’ve got to emphasize, ‘This is a game,’” Walker said. “God’s in control. My faith is in him. I’m having fun out here. I’m staying relaxed.”
Walker is 22-of-51 (.431) this summer with four doubles, a triple and two home runs. He has driven in nine runs and scored 11, while playing mostly in right field.
He has impressed Savage, the UCLA coach, by spraying the ball all over the field, battling with two strikes and hitting against both velocity and offspeed pitches from righties and lefties.
— Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue) July 4, 2017
Walker’s success this summer should come as no surprise. He tore up the Northwoods League last summer, batting .406. He is one of just four players to reach the .400 mark in the collegiate summer league. Phillies catcher Andrew Knapp hit .400 in 2011.
Part of Walker’s success the past two summers might be due to his preference for wood over metal bats.
“When I make contact, I don’t know, something in my brain connects with wood,” Walker said. “It’s natural.”
Walker batted .481 and got on base nearly 60 percent of the time as a senior at Prosper to lead the team to a Texas 5A state championship. Carpenter said even if he got out, it was rare that Walker didn’t square the ball up.
During his 36 years of coaching varsity baseball, Carpenter has had 30 players drafted. Four of them have reached the majors: Kip Wells, James Loney, Chad Huffman and his son, Cardinals infielder Matt Carpenter. He said Walker’s lefthanded stroke reminded him of his son’s.
“He’s right there with them,” Carpenter said. “No doubt about it. He’s got a chance.”
Walker said as a freshman at Oklahoma he often let an 0-for-2 start to games carry into later at-bats. It was something he worked on in 2017 and hopes to carry through the rest of this summer and into next year.
“I played freer, had more fun, stayed more relaxed,” Walker said. “I’m going to try and take that into my junior year. Be a leader for those guys and really play as hard as I can, but have fun while I’m doing that.”