The St. Louis Cardinals have recalled outfielder Jordan Walker ahead of Friday's game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the team announced. In a corresponding move, Lars Nootbaar was placed on the IL with a lower back contusion.
Walker, 21, surprisingly made the Cardinals' Opening Day roster despite having never appeared in even a Triple-A contest prior to this season. He started the season with an historic 12-game hitting streak, but by the time he was optioned on April 26 his seasonal line had dropped to .274/.321/.397 (97 OPS+) with two home runs and 17 more strikeouts than walks (three) over the course of 78 plate appearances.
Walker's overall Triple-A performance doesn't look much better. In 135 plate appearances, he's hit .239/.348/.398 with four home runs and twice as many strikeouts as walks (16). He had played better as of late, hitting .312/.403/.541 with three of those four home runs in his last 15 games.
It's worth noting that Walker's ball-tracking data provides some reason for optimism: his average launch angle in Triple-A (11.3 degrees) was more than eight degrees superior to the 2.7 mark he posted in the majors. Lifting the ball more often has long been a key for him to tap into his immense raw power. (His average exit velocity was also improved, by nearly two ticks, on the minor-league side.)
The Cardinals, 25-32 on the season, will enter Friday in fourth place in the National League Central. They did gain ground on Thursday despite having the day off, as their division deficit dropped to 4 1/2 games with a Milwaukee Brewers loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.