Swaggerty, Walker Build On Summer Showing
Travis Swaggerty and Steele Walker spent the summer sharing an outfield for USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team. The two were two of the most productive hitters on the CNT and became good friends over the course of the summer.
The pair used their impressive summers to elevate their profiles going into their junior years, and both were voted Preseason All-Americans by major league scouting directors. Together, along with Duke’s Griffin Conine, Wichita State’s Greyson Jenista and Kentucky’s Tristan Pompey, they lead a strong crop of college outfielders, one of the strengths of the 2018 draft class.
The former Team USA stars were reunited on Opening Weekend when Swaggerty and South Alabama and Walker and Oklahoma both traveled to Myrtle Beach, S.C., for the Baseball at the Beach Tournament, hosted by Coastal Carolina.
On the field, Swaggerty’s Jaguars got the better of Walker’s Sooners with a 6-5 victory in 12 innings. Off the field, the stars were happy to see each other again.
“We had a good talk before the game, after the game, we met up a lot,” Swaggerty said of Walker. “He’s one of my better friends that I’ve ever played with. I love that guy.”
“He’s athletic, he loves baseball, he plays with passion,” Walker said. “Those are the kind of guys I like to watch.”
Swaggerty is the top-ranked college outfielder in the draft class and could be the first college position player selected thanks to his combination of athleticism, hitting ability and chance to remain in center field as a professional. His tools were on full display on Opening Weekend, when he crushed two home runs, glided around the outfield and drew eight walks against just two strikeouts in 20 plate appearances.
Swaggerty said after an adjustment to his stance to give him better balance, he felt locked in at the plate.
“I widened out a little bit and I felt a lot more comfortable,” he said. “I had more of my legs under me and I felt really good. I feel like I’m seeing (the ball) really well.”
Opponents pitched Swaggerty very carefully during Opening Weekend and didn’t throw him many fastballs. He said he knew that might be coming this season and wants to make sure he sticks to his disciplined approach at the plate throughout the spring.
The Jaguars’ lineup is a deep and experienced group, providing Swaggerty with protection. But many opponents are likely to take their chances with the rest of South Alabama’s lineup and try not to let Swaggerty beat them. If that is the case, he will readily take his walks. He has more walks (97) than strikeouts (92) in his college career, and his plus speed makes him a weapon once he gets on base.
Coach Mark Calvi said Swaggerty does a good job of staying within himself at the plate.
“When Travis is controlled aggressive at the plate, that’s when he’s going at his best,” South Alabama coach Mark Calvi said. “When he’s just aggressive and trying to get off swings, that’s when he’s not at his best.”
And when Swaggerty gets a pitch he can drive, he can do damage. His quick, compact, lefthanded swing produces more power than his 5-foot-11, 180-pound frame suggests. The second of his Opening Weekend homers was a monstrous drive that Trackman recorded at 464 feet with an exit velocity of 109 mph.
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“As soon as I made contact, I knew I got it,” he said. “It was an incredible feeling. No better feeling than hitting a homer.”
Walker also packs a punch in his lefthanded swing but presents scouts with a more difficult evaluation. Though he plays center field for Oklahoma, he moved to right field with Team USA in deference to Swaggerty. Walker is an above-average runner, and while whatever team drafts him will likely keep him in center field, it is not certain he will stay there in the long run. If he moves to a corner, there will be questions about whether he hits for enough power to profile.
For his part, Walker said he is comfortable playing anywhere in the outfield. And if he continues to hit—as he has done everywhere he’s gone during his college career—he’ll find a defensive home. A Freshman All-American, Walker in 2016 hit .406 in the Northwoods League, becoming the fourth player to hit at least .400 in league history. He hit .333/.413/.541 as a sophomore and then led Team USA with 24 hits.
Walker picked up Opening Day right where he left off last summer and is sticking to his easygoing approach at the plate.
“Baseball is such an up and down game, I don’t get too caught up in how I feel,” Walker said. “I stick to what I know and what works for me. Don’t worry about the results too much, especially this year. I’m in the process.”
Oklahoma coach Skip Johnson said Walker’s calmness at the plate is what he most enjoys about the junior.
“He understands the moment pitch-to-pitch,” Johnson said. “I think people tend to overlook that a little bit. Of course, he can get sped up at times, but he’s really calm and he can take a mature at-bat. I think that’s really fun to watch.”
Fans at Oklahoma and South Alabama will have plenty of fun watching Walker and Swaggerty this spring. And scouts will be keeping a close eye on them as well. Both project to be first-round picks in June if they continue to hit like they did as teammates last summer and competitors on Opening Weekend.