JUPITER, Fla. – Dansby Swanson led off the Braves’ first inning Thursday with his first home run of spring training, a line drive to left-center off Cardinals veteran Adam Wainwright. But nothing the rookie phenom Swanson does is much of a surprise anymore.
What opened more eyes came four batters later, when Adam Walker hit a two-run, two-out home run to straightaway center off Wainwright, the second home run in 17-hour span for the towering 25-year-old outfielder who’s prodigious power has been on display both in games and especially in batting practice.
“Stupid power,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said, that being part of the baseball vernacular for high praise. “He was hitting balls over the damn office buildings out there during BP.”
Walker, after hitting a couple of balls onto and over the metal roof atop a two-story Marlins headquarters building beyond left field at Roger Dean Stadium during pregame batting practice, took that into the game when he took Wainwright deep on the first pitch he saw to give the Braves a 3-0 lead. This after homering Wednesday night against the Yankees in Tampa.
It’s a conspicuous start to camp for a player whose huge power — 25 or more homers in each of his four full minor-league seasons with the Twins — has been matched by huge strikeout totals. That’s why he was was claimed off waivers by three teams this winter, the Braves being the third and the team that adroitly slipped him through waivers without being claimed again.
“It didn’t look like he even hit that ball good, and it just takes off,” Snitker said of the homer off Wainwright. “He’s got power. We knew that coming in. That’s why you take a crack at a guy like that because you don’t see power like that, so you hope maybe the light goes off and he gets it going with you. Because if they do, with a tool like that you have something.”
Timing can be everything in waiver claims, and the Braves claimed him in late January off waivers from Baltimore and then got him through waivers five days later, a time when most teams had little if any room on their 40-man rosters as they prepared for spring training.
The Braves were the third team to claim the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Walker off waivers in less than three months, after the Milwaukee Brewers claimed him from the Minnesota Twins in November and the Orioles claimed him from the Brewers in January.
The Brewers and Orioles tried unsuccessfully to get Walker through waivers, but the Braves’ timing worked as all 29 other teams had full rosters or otherwise elected to pass. Having cleared waivers, he could be reassigned to Triple-A by the Braves. And give them an intriguing option should they decide to add a big bat to the bench.
Walker hit .243 with 27 home runs for Triple-A Rochester (Twins) in 2016, but also struck out a career-high 202 times in 478 at-bats and had just 44 walks and a .305 OBP. A third-round draft pick by Minnesota in 2012, he played five minor league seasons in the Twins organization and hit .251 with 20 triples, 124 home runs and 429 RBIs in 584 games, with 744 strikeouts and 189 walks in 2,449 plate appearances.
He had a career-high 31 home runs and 106 RBIs for Double-A Chattanooga (Twins) in 2015, striking out 195 times in 502 at-bats.
“He was hitting balls over those buildings,” Braves general manager John Coppolella said Thursday after batting practice. “I mean, I’ve never seen anything like that.”
A half-hour later, he saw Walker hit another one over the fence, this time in the game off a pitcher, Wainwright, who finished in the top three in National League Cy Young Award balloting three times since 2009.