A question that I see popping up online frequently is “who are some underrated baseball prospects?” For example, the Jose Garcia hype train has been picking up steam lately, rightfully so. But, there is another seemingly unheralded prospect who has been tearing it up in the minor leagues. I invite you all to hop aboard the Taylor Walls hype train.
Taylor Walls is easily one of the most underrated prospects in the Tampa Bay Rays’ system. Furthermore, the case can be made that he is one of the most underrated prospects in all of baseball. While I am not suggesting he is a generational talent, I do think he has the makings of a Top 100 prospect and someone who will find quality playing time as a Major Leaguer. So the question is, why are seemingly so many people ignoring his potential? That is a good question. In this article, I will be doing a deep dive into the career of Taylor Walls, and hopefully shining a light on him as a prospect who deserves more recognition.
Age: 23 (7/10/1996)
Bats: Switch Hitter
Weight: 180 pounds
School: Florida State University (Tallahassee, FL)
Drafted: 3rd round, 79th overall, of the 2017 MLB Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays
In short, I think part of the reason for him flying under the radar is the fact that he is a Rays middle infield prospect. The Rays have the best farm system in baseball and their strong point is middle infield prospects. While Walls is excellent, most prospect lists have him behind fellow middle infielders: Wander Franco, Vidal Brujan, Xavier Edwards, and Greg Jones. Basically, he is getting lost in the shuffle.
Per FanGraphs.com, here are Walls’ tool grades:
Game Power: 35/40
Raw Power: 40/40
When we look at Walls’ profile, he is very well-rounded across the board. This is likely another reason why he is underrated; well-rounded prospects seem to get less attention than guys with standout tools. Regardless, while Walls does not have a standout tool per se, his best offensive tool is probably his speed. His hit tool should not be ignored either. As a switch hitter, he has shown the ability to hit well and for power from both sides of the plate. If he has one tool that is weaker than his others, it would be his power. But, he has a solid amount of power, so it is not like he is completely lacking in that area either. His best overall tool may simply be his defense. He has great instincts as a fielder and may be the Rays shortstop of the future if he keeps progressing (Franco would move over to 3B in this scenario, of course). Let’s take a look at his career thus far:
2015 (Freshman Year): .220/.373/.247, 0 HR, 7 SB, 1 CS, 18.0 BB%, 19.0 K%, 289 PA
After Walls graduated from Crisp County High School in his hometown, Cordele, GA, he attended Florida State University in Tallahassee, FL. In 2015, he was the only freshman to start all 65 games for the Seminoles. He played every game at shortstop, where he flashed the leather. Offensively, he was pretty good as well. Walls was ninth in the nation in walks, to the tune of a .373 OBP and 18.0 BB%. He was named to the 2015 NCAA Tallahassee Regional All-Tournament team after leading the ‘Noles to victories with strong showings in the tournament. One area he lacked in during his freshman year was power, as his low slugging percentage and lack of home runs suggest. However, that changed in his sophomore year.
2016 (Sophomore Year): .355/.479/.516, 6 HR, 14 SB, 2 CS, 19.0 BB%, 14.5 K%, 311 PA
In his sophomore year of college, Walls took a huge step forward. He once again started in all of the team’s contests, and led the ‘Noles in plate appearances. He improved in every stat category. He improved his hitting significantly. He developed power as he hit 6 HR and more than doubled his slugging percentage from his freshman year. He increased his already high walk rate. He cut down his strikeout rate some. He got more aggressive on the bases as he doubled his SB total from his freshman season. In May, he was named to the All-ACC Second Team. In June, he was named a First Team All-American by Baseball America, a rare feat by an FSU shortstop. He then made the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team roster, where he lead the team with 14 walks and a .405 OBP. This was Walls’ best year of his college career and really put him on the map as a draft prospect. His junior season was not too shabby either.
Walls becomes the 3rd FSU shortstop to receive 1st team honors (Stephen Cardullo & Dick Howser) pic.twitter.com/Kyb6d1yzAa
— FSU Baseball (@FSUBaseball) June 7, 2016
2017 (Junior Year): .273/.421/.423, 8 HR, 10 SB, 2 CS, 20.2 BB%, 13.6 K%, 332 PA
In his junior year, he further bolstered his already brilliant walk rate. He led nationally in walks and was 2nd in the nation in runs scored with 82. He started in all but one game in 2017 for the ‘Noles, and was their leadoff hitter. He stayed aggressive on the bases and hit a career-best 8 HR. During FSU’s run in the Regionals, Super Regionals, and College World Series, Walls reached base safely in 14 consecutive plate appearances, setting a new school record. He concluded his FSU career with 178 walks and a 19.1 BB%, which was the fourth-most walks in FSU history.
The Rays made a splash with their first round pick in 2017 as they selected Brendan McKay, the two-way phenom, 4th overall. In the third round, they clearly did their scouting. They chose Taylor Walls 79th overall, and so far it is looking like a wise choice.
Taylor Walls waited 7 1/2 hours to lead off this game…
— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) June 11, 2017
2017 (Hudson Valley Renegades, Class-A Short Season):
197 PA, .213/.330/.287, 1 HR, 5 SB, 4 CS, 14.7 BB%, 26.9 K%, .073 ISO, .306 wOBA, 94 wRC+
After he was drafted, Walls was assigned to the Hudson Valley Renegades, the Class-A Short Season affiliate of the Rays. On July 3rd, 2017, he made his professional debut. In that game, he went 0 for 3 with 2 walks and 2 runs scored. In his first three games, he drew 5 walks across 15 plate appearances. After two months of playing, his first taste of pro ball was complete. As the stats above show, it was not quite as good of a debut as most would have hoped for. He struggled quite a bit. He was below league average in just about every stat category. The speedster got caught stealing nearly half the time, a big increase from his college rate. His strikeout rate jumped while his slugging percentage dipped. The two areas where he was not below league average were his on base percentage, which was slightly above average, and his walk rate, which was almost double the league average. Although he faced some adversity in 2017, his plate discipline shined through as it has always been one of the sharpest parts of his game.
Was this debut cause for concern? No. 197 plate appearances is not a huge sample size, especially after a College World Series run. He could have simply been worn down from not being used to playing that late in the year. Furthermore, Walls may have just needed some time to adjust to pro ball. From the change to a wooden bat to simply the improvement in competition, he may have just needed some time to settle in. He turned it on late as he finished the season on a 9 game on-base streak. What would be most telling of his adjustment is how he faired in his first full professional season.
2018 (Bowling Green Hot Rods, Class-A):
540 PA, .304/.393/.428, 6 HR, 31 SB, 12 CS, 12.2 BB%, 14.8 K%, .124 ISO, .380 wOBA, 137 wRC+
Much like the transition from his freshman year to his sophomore year, Walls burst onto the scene in his first full professional season in 2018. He was one of the best hitters in the Midwest League; he ranked 5th in OBP, 5th in AVG, 10th in OPS, 10th in BB%, 9th in K% 7th in wOBA, 7th in wRC+, and 6th in SB. He was one of the hottest hitters in the league in 2018. Most of his stats were well above the league average. For instance, his OBP was 68 points higher than the league average. Not only was he one of the top players in SB, his SB rate was above the league average. His wRC+ was glorious as well, way above league average. He made the Midwest League All-Star Team as the Eastern Division’s starting shortstop, where he drove in the first run of the game via an RBI Single. Walls played 2018 like many would hope for based on his track record. He was one of the best hitters in the league, he was patient at the plate, and was a threat to opposing teams on the basepaths.
The area where Walls still had room to grow in was power. His ISO (isolated power) was about average, as he hit 6 HR in 2018. He did make strides in his batted ball data in 2018. He cut back his GB% (ground ball percentage) from 48.6% in 2017 to 44.6% in 2018. He accordingly raised his FB% (fly ball percentage) from 28.4% to 32.6%. So he was hitting the ball in the air more, which can be correlated to his increase in home runs, albeit a small increase. Walls also improved his simple defensive stats in 2018. As a switch hitter, he displayed the ability to control the zone and hit for power from both sides of the plate. Overall, he was showing signs of a breakout campaign to come in 2019, notably in the power department if the trend continued.
2019 First Half (Charlotte Stone Crabs, Class-A Advanced):
180 PA, .269/.339/.417, 4 HR, 13 SB, 6 CS, 10.6 BB%, 15.6 K%, .147 ISO, .346 wOBA, 123 wRC+
Walls split time in 2019 between the Florida State League and the Southern League. He played the first half of the season in the pitcher-friendly FSL. He got off to a slow start as he was sidelined with a quad injury during the first week of the season. After three weeks, he returned to the Stone Crabs’ lineup in early May. He played for the squad for about two months. He was superb across the board during his time in the FSL. He kept the trend of a double digit BB% alive, a feat he has performed dating back to his freshman year of college. And while this was the lowest his walk rate had ever been, it was still above the league average of 8.4%. Somewhere where he really shined was his K%. His strikeout rate was nearly 7 points lower than the league average of 22.2%. His AVG and OBP were both above average, and his SLG and ISO were both way above average. Hmm. Could he have had an unnoticed power breakout in the power-dampening FSL? Let’s examine.
Walls’ GB% decreased from 44.6% in 2018 to 37.4% in 2019. His FB% dramatically increased from 32.6% to 47.3%. His LD% (line drive percentage) also decreased from 22.7% to 15.7%. So now he was hitting even less ground balls than the previous season and way more fly balls. I attribute this to the high SLG and ISO. Although his HR total in the FSL was just 4, it appears he made strides in overall power production during his time in the FSL, as his batted ball data suggests.
Walls made the Florida State All-Star Team as the Southern Division’s starting second basemen (Royce Lewis had dibs on Walls’ primary position). Walls singled in the first inning and then showed off his wheels and heads-up base running skills as he hustled from first to third. About a week after the FSL All-Star Game, he received a promotion to Double-A. This was the first in-season promotion of his career.
2019 Second Half (Montgomery Biscuits, Double-A):
243 PA, .270/.346/.479, 6 HR, 15 SB, 9 CS, 10.7 BB%, 21.0 K%, .209 ISO, .368 wOBA, 135 wRC+
2019 Total (Combined Across Two Levels):
423 PA, .270/.343/.452, 10 HR, 28 SB, 15 CS, 10.7 BB%, 18.7 K%, .182 ISO, .359 wOBA, 130 wRC+
Walls dominated during his time in Double-A. He retained the great AVG and OBP that he had in the FSL, while significantly bolstering his SLG and ISO. His isolated power had been trending up his entire career. His slugging percentage was also, notably, over 100 points higher than his on base percentage. This was a big development for Walls as his SLG had never been this high in his pro career, especially when compared to his OBP. During his time in the Southern League, Walls ranked 9th in SLG and 9th in ISO. The HR total in 2019 was a career best. Another noteworthy statistic regarding Walls time in Montgomery is his Spd rating. Walls ranked 3rd overall in Spd with a rating of 8.2. Walls has always been outstanding in this stat category, but his Southern League Spd rating shows how he has gotten even better as a baserunner. As a switch hitter, his splits became more pronounced in 2019. While he still demonstrated power from both sides of the plate (.458 SLG as LHB and .436 SLG as RHB), he was a better overall hitter from the left side (.373 OBP as LHB vs .242 OBP as RHB). There is still a positive chance he sticks as a switch hitter later in his career since he had triple the at bats as a lefty in 2019 as he did as a righty, so the sample size is not tremendous.
Walls’ batted ball data remained strong after his transition to Double-A, as his GB% was even lower in the SL (34.0%) than it was in the FSL. His FB% decreased a few points as his LD% correspondingly increased. Still, he was hitting the ball in the air in 2019 at a higher rate than any point previously in his career. While his HR total is not revolutionary, I project he would have faired extremely well in the HR department in 2020 had the season started on time. He hit 27 extra base hits in Double-A.
Walls was also slick with the glove in 2019. He further established himself as an above-average defender. There is unfortunately not much defensive data available for prospects, but we do have errors. While errors are not the most precise category, they can be helpful. In 2019, Walls committed just 8 errors, less than half of his 2018 total. The Rays named him the 2019 Defensive Prospect of the Year, which shows how much the organization values his skills.
Taylor Walls crushes his second AA homer over the RF wall to give the Biscuits a 5-3 lead in the 7th! pic.twitter.com/o27TRsqI4P
— Montgomery Biscuits (@BiscuitBaseball) August 2, 2019
Walls is a well-rounded prospect who was above average statistically in almost every way during his first two full professional seasons. He started hitting the ball in the air more in 2019, which resulted in overall higher XBH production. He is also a terrific defender. He does not necessarily have a standout tool, but does have the ability to contribute in all facets of the game. He has the makings of a Top 100 Prospect, with Major Leaguer written all over him. His floor is a utility player with a ceiling as an All-Star Major Leaguer. He is going to find playing time somewhere, as his talent simply warrants it. Yet, there has not been much discussion about him recently in the Prospect World. Some would think that his track record of consistent success would earn him consideration in Top 100 Lists, and just praise in general. It is tough because he is somewhat buried in the Rays system that possesses a plethora of middle infield prospects, but I implore you not to sleep on Taylor Walls, one of the most underrated prospects in baseball.