While the team’s top six spots are all but locked up in the Braves’ bullpen, it was quite the intriguing battle in Spring Training for the final two. However, there was one invisible candidate who could have made things even more exciting.
On the SportsTalkATL Podcast, we have asked numerous players in the Braves’ farm system who the team’s most underrated prospect is, and the answer has been close to unanimous. That would be Jeremy Walker — a burly right-hander that received his first taste of the big leagues last season. Walker was a fifth-round pick out of Gardner-Webb in 2016 and had an impressive stint as a starter in his first few years on the farm. However, the Braves moved him into a relief role for 2019, which he split between AA Mississippi and AAA Gwinnett. The results were promising, as he posted the best splits of his career — a 1.2 BB/9 and 9.1 K/9 rate. While the peripherals were not as sexy in Atlanta, Walker held his own in six appearances, giving up just a couple of earned runs.
The expectation was that Walker would at least receive an opportunity to show he was capable of earning a bullpen spot, but we did not see him pitch for weeks. Finally, David O’Brien of The Athletic gave us an update in early March:
Hard-throwing #Braves reliever Jeremy Walker tweaked his shoulder early in camp, Snitker said. Will have to rebuild arm strength once he's cleared to resume throwing. No timetable.
— David O'Brien (@DOBrienATL) March 7, 2020
This Tweet is a bit tough to read between the lines. On one hand, he considers the injury merely to be a tweak, but on the other hand, there was no timetable for return.
Unfortunately, there is no timetable for the MLB to return either. However, I fully expect them to have some sort of abbreviated Spring Training before the season resumes to avoid injuries. If Walker has fully recovered from his shoulder injury, he could be a guy that many forgot about during this bullpen competition, as he was unable to throw a single pitch. With that being said, the team is taking a cautious approach with Jacob Webb as he recovers from injury, so that could be a precedent of how they handle Walker upon his return.
Either way, we are very excited to see what Walker can bring to the table at some point for Atlanta. The system is very high on him, and we could see why sooner rather than later. Don’t be surprised if he sneaks his way onto the roster, especially if they are expanded.