Click through a few pages on MLB.com and it won’t take long to spot Christian Walker.

At age 28, the former first baseman at South Carolina has paid his dues, and Major League Baseball knows it.

Prior to 2019, Walker spread 61 MLB games across five years, dating back to his big-league debut in September 2014.

But because those trips always ended with returns to triple-A with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Baltimore Orioles, Walker was never officially considered a rookie.

That’s changed this year. Entering the weekend, Walker has played in 29 of Arizona’s 31 games. He’s also one of the reasons the Diamondbacks have a legitimate shot to capture their first NL West title since 2011.

Rookie of the Year?

Walker is no Henry Rowengartner (shout out to all the "Rookie of the Year" fans). But he’s making a strong case for the National League ROTY award.

The former Gamecock is batting .308 for Arizona, with seven homers, 15 RBIs and three stolen bases.

A Friday morning column on MLB.com ranks Walker No. 2 in the NL Rookie of the Year standings, behind Pete Alonso, a first baseman for the New York Mets.

“The 28-year-old debuted in 2014, but he still has rookie eligibility,” MLB reporter Richard Justice writes. “It’s been a few years since Walker was a top prospect with the Orioles, but he has finally gotten a chance to get consistent at-bats and is making the most of it in helping the D-backs to a surprising start.”

Off waivers

It’s nice to see Walker getting praise on a national scale.

The Pennsylvania native batted .336 in his three years at USC, with a 98.5 fielding percentage at first base.

That includes a breakout sophomore year in 2011, when he batted .358 with 10 long balls and 62 RBIs.

Walker was taken by Baltimore in the fourth round of the 2012 draft. After a few years in the Orioles’ farm system, the team designated him for assignment in 2017. In less than a month, the South Carolina product was picked up off waivers by the Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds before Arizona snagged him in the offseason of that year.

It was a tough time for Walker. But now, he’s making the most of his 2019 campaign.

“I want the guys to count on me and want to count on me,” Walker said in a recent article with the Arizona Republic. “I think that’s what makes a team good.”

Footsteps

A handful of other former Gamecocks are following in Walker’s footsteps, with great performances of their own in the early parts of the season.

Wil Crowe – The Washington Nationals’ second-round pick in 2017, Crowe is pitching in double-A this season. The righty has a 3-0 record through five starts, with a 0.96 ERA and 25 strikeouts.

Peter Mooney – The shortstop is batting .292 this season with a homer and eight RBIs through 20 games. A 2011, late-round draft pick by Toronto, Mooney is hoping his strong start will catapult him to a big-league debut.

Madison Stokes – Philadelphia’s 10th-round pick in last year’s draft has gotten off to a good start in Class A-Advanced ball. The first baseman is hitting .283 with three homers and 13 RBIs through 23 games.

Reach Derrek Asberry at 843-937-5517. Follow him on Twitter @DerrekAsberry

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