Former Gardner-Webb major leaguer Jeremy Walker in Class AAA but eager for return to the major leagues
By Richard Walker
Jeremy Walker realized the dream that virtually every kid who plays baseball had when he made the major leagues in 2019.
Now, more than three years and two arm injuries later, Walker is chasing a return to the big leagues with the Class AAA Durham Bulls of the Tampa Bay Rays’ organization.
Tampa Bay is Walker’s third pro team and all the roster changes have made the year one of his busiest.
‘It’s been a crazy ride,” Walker said last week when Durham played at the Charlotte Knights. “But the goal is still there for me.”
The third major-leaguer produced by Gardner-Webb, the 6-foot-5, 235-pound right-handed pitcher Walker is focused on getting healthy and getting game ready for an organization that is intrigued by his talents.
“Analytically, they think my pitches are really good,” Walker said of the feedback he gets from his organization. “It’s just putting everything together. I’ve been a little wild this year, walking guys and hitting guys. So I think they see me as a future guy. I may not be ready right now but they see the pieces and are waiting for me to put it all together.”
A three-year standout at Gardner-Webb from 2014 to 2016, Walker was a fifth round draft pick of Atlanta in 2016 and quickly moved through the Braves’ organization.
Starting out in the Rookie League for Danville, Va., in 2016, Walker pitched for low Class A Rome, Ga., in 2017, high Class A Florida in 2018. A brief call-up to Class AAA Gwinnett, Ga., in 2018 was a indicator of things to come.
He played played for Class AA Mississippi and Class AAA Gwinnett before getting promoted to the major leagues on July 24, 2019 and made his major league debut two days later.
“I grew up a Braves fan and I always wanted to play for them growing up,” said Walker, a 2013 Davie County High graduate who also played for Calvary Baptist High School. “Obviously getting drafted by them was a huge thing for me.
“Year by year, I just progressed. Definitely it was a dream come true. I see God’s hand in everything so I’m just leaning on his promises. This year has been a tough year, but I’m under His control and know that everything happens for a reason.”
Walker had an 0-0 record, 1.93 ERA and struck out nine batters in 9 1-3 innings covering six relief appearances for the Braves.
But a shoulder labrum injury sidelined him for the entire 2020 season and Atlanta released him on Feb. 12, 2021.
Signed by the San Francisco Giants organization, Walker had to rehab a broken humerus bone in his right arm and missed his second straight season.
With his rehab complete shortly after training camp this season, he pitched one game for Class A San Jose and for Class AAA Sacramento before Tampa Bay traded for him on Aug. 2 and assigned him to Durham.
“I’m just working to get back to where I was in ’19,” said Walker, who made his first of the 2022 season on Friday night in Charlotte after 35 relief outings this season for the Giants and Rays organizations. “And I’m healthy and I feel good. I praise God for that. I’ve put my faith in Him to heal this up.”
When he made his major league debut, he joined Blake Lalli and Emilio Pagan as the only former Gardner-Webb players to make the major leagues.
“I know both of them and hope there’s more to come since I’m proud of the program there and know they’re working to get more up here,” said Walker, who married Caroline Bandy last November and lives in the offseason in their hometown of Advance.
“I was afraid coming back that my stuff wouldn’t be the same,” Walker said of his pitches. “Like I wasn’t going to have the velo and the movement that I had before. But my stuff is better now. I’m just trying to get it all together.
“I’ve got to get the reps and get my body back in shape. I’ve been throwing for 14 months now. So the more I get my feet under me in the games it’ll progress.”