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Two Rookie Seasons at Age 28

Christian Walker during NLCS.
Christian Walker during NLCS.
Photo by Chris Coduto/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Ignoring days on the active roster, let’s define their rookie seasons as when players exceeded 130 at-bats in the Majors. One Diamondback and one Ranger each turned 28 years old in March just before their final rookie season. Instead of calling them late bloomers, let’s say they arrived in the Majors at a relatively old age. They were Christian Walker and Adolis Garcia.

What do they have in common?

Their career journeys were unpredictable and surprising. More on that later.

They are excellent batters. During the 2023 regular season, their OPS+ was exactly equal (OPS+ of 123).

They win games. During the last two regular seasons, they earned above-average bWAR (8.9 two-season total bWAR for Christian Walker and 7.8 two-season total bWAR for Adolis Garcia).

How are they different?

Defense. Two differences:

  • Although they both defend the same side of the field, Christian Walker plays first base and Adolis Garcia plays right field.
  • During the last two regular seasons, Christian Walker was a better defender (26 total DRS vs 10 total DRS). Christian Walker earned a Gold Glove.

Postseason Performance. Two differences:

  • In this postseason (before the World Series), Adolis Garcia is batting better (7 HR, 20 RBIs, and 1.102 OPS vs 1 HR, 7 RBIs, and .698 OPS).
  • In this postseason (before the World Series), Christian Walker walker stole more bases (4 vs 1).

Christian Walker’s unpredictable path to playing first base.

After playing two years in College (South Carolina), Christian Walker played in the New York Pennsylvania League. At age 21, he made his first appearance in the minors. At age 23 he made his first appearance in the Majors for the Orioles.

In February 2017, the Orioles lost Walker on waivers to the Braves. In the following month, he moved on waivers to the Reds, then to the Diamondbacks.

September 25, 2018 might have been Christian Walker’s last baseball game because he was hit in the face by a pitch. As Walker said, “Could have been way worse.” At the time Torey Lovullo said the injury was unfortunate because the possibility of Christian Walker playing left field. Although his range and fielding percent were better than Yasmany Tomas (per this AZ Snake Pit article), that was a low bar to clear.

Paul Goldschmidt was an All-Star Diamondbacks first baseman. In December of 2018 Paul Goldschmidt was traded to the Cardinals, who extended him through 2024.

In spring training of 2019, Jake Lamb earned Goldschmidt’s first base position and Christian Walker was a pinch hitter with rare starts at first base.

In March/April, he hit 7 homers, 15 RBIs, and had an OPS of .994. As Jim McLennan wrote, “It was the highest April OPS by a rookie (min. 50 PA) in franchise history.” Christian Walker, pinch hitter, became Christian Walker, Diamondbacks’ first baseman.

At the end of the season he was voted the AZ Snake Pit Rookie-of-the-Year. As Jim McLennan wrote, “While earning a twenty-fifth of what Goldschmidt did in St. Louis, Walker had a not dissimilar season, and even picked up an unexpected Gold Glove nomination.”

His success grew from there. See this AZ Snake Pit 2020 player review

Adolis Garcia’s surprising path to playing right field.

From age 18 to 22, he played in Cuba. At age 23 he played in the Japan Eastern League.

At age 25, he made his first appearance in the Majors. He was called up on 8 August and played till the end of the season. Perhaps his most memorable event was on 26 September of that season. He entered the game as a pinch runner on first base with two outs in the eighth inning. His team was down by one run. The next batter hit a single. A throwing error allowed Garcia to advance beyond second base and he aggressively ran for home. He might have made it safely but he tripped and was called out at home. I like that style of play despite the bad result. With two outs, if he had stopped at third base, the run expectancy would have been 0.500 (a coin flip). The odds of not-tripping were much better than a coin flip.

In 2019, at age 26, he played in AAA. In December the Rangers purchased him from the Cardinals.

In 2021, for reasons that are unclear to me, the Rangers had eight outfielders, seven with between 140 and 348 PAs. Adolis Garcia’s playing time in the outfield dramatically increased from 7 PAs in 2020 to 568 PAs in 2021 (much more than any other Ranger outfielder). He played 79 games in center field and 51 games in right field. He was an All-Star and received votes for Rookie-of-the-Year.

The road ahead.

It’s likely that Christian Walker and Adolis Garcia will impact which team wins the World Series. I am writing on Friday morning before game one of the World Series between the Diamondbacks and the Rangers.

Next season will be Christian Walker’s last arbitration season. He is projected to make $12.7 Million. Because he will likely play at the 3 to 3.5 WAR level, he is good value for the money. In 2025 he will become a free agent and will possibly move on to a new team.

Next season will be Adolis Garcia’s first arbitration year. He is projected to make $6.6 Million. Because he will likely play at the 3.5 to 4 WAR level, he is good value for the money. He will likely remain a Ranger for the next few years.