Jan. 31, 2012

click here for CBI Atlantic Sun preview

click here for coaches' A-Sun preseason poll

click here for coaches' preseason All-A-Sun team


Walker-led Dolphins look to repeat

By Andrew Krause



Four years ago, Adam Brett Walker II (left) largely was overlooked by professional scouts and college coaches alike.


The Jacksonville junior enters this season as one of college baseball’s most feared hitters, a preseason All-American and a likely early-round selection in the Major League Draft.


“Adam is our centerpiece, our spotlight guy,” longtime Dolphins coach Terry Alexander said. “He has big-leaguer written all over him.”


Added ETSU coach Tony Skole: “Adam Brett Walker will be the most feared hitter in the A-Sun this year. He has great power to all fields, but what really stands out is his athleticism. He can defend, and he runs really well for a big man.


“He could be a guy who hits 20 home runs this year and also steals 20 bases. He has that kind of potential. Every game JU plays this year, his name will be circled as the guy you just can’t let beat you.”


Walker, who grew up in Milwaukee, comes from an athletically-gifted family. His mother Glynis was a national champion high jumper at Carthage College, and his father Adam briefly played with the Minnesota Vikings. Former major leaguer Damion Easley is his second cousin. Walker excelled in football, basketball and baseball in high school. Like many other baseball players from the Midwest and other cold-weather areas, Walker was largely overlooked.  


Tim Montez, Jacksonville’s associate head coach and pitching coach, was one of the astute coaches to pursue Walker.


Montez, who had experience recruiting a number of Midwestern states from his days working under Norm DeBriyn at Arkansas, first came across Walker at a tournament showcase in the summer of 2008 when he was a rising senior in high school. Montez saw Walker catching but noticed his athleticism and versatility at first and third base and right field as the tournament progressed. Montez also noted how easy it was to fall in love with Walker’s pure strength, raw power and surprising speed for a big guy as he ran a 6.75 60-yard dash at 6-5 and 220 pounds. 


“Adam has the best raw power that I’ve seen in my 21 years of coaching,” Montez said.


Both Montez and Alexander admitted Walker was a bit raw and unpolished – largely because of his cold-weather roots – but were extremely confident that he would develop into an impact player because of his personality, work ethic and ability to take coaching. 


“He is a year younger than the other kids in his class,” Alexander said. “He will only be 20 at the time of this year’s Draft.”


Walker chose Jacksonville over Western Carolina, Louisville and Indiana because he enjoyed the small-school atmosphere and felt that the coaching would help him cultivate his skills. He made his presence felt almost immediately as an outfielder, third baseman, first baseman and designated hitter. Offensively, he belted 16 homers and was a second-team, all-conference performer.


As a sophomore, Walker got even better. He led the Atlantic Sun Conference in average (.409), hits (99) and doubles (23) and added 13 homers and 75 RBI. He was named the A-Sun player of the year and was a semifinalist for the Golden Spikes Award and Dick Howser Trophy.


“His sophomore year, he started recognizing the breaking ball better and became more disciplined at the plate,” Montez said. “This season, we want him to work more on his patience and realize that he will be pitched around even more frequently.”


After the Dolphins (37-24 in 2011) were eliminated from the Gainesville Regional after a couple of hard-fought losses to the University of Miami, Walker spent the summer playing in the Cape Cod League. Walker showed flashes but struggled to the tune of .216/4/17 while playing for the Hyannis Harbor Hawks. The experience, he said, helped him learn to make the necessary adjustments to play at the next level.


“I enjoyed the Cape Cod experience,” Walker said. “It gave me an opportunity to play with and against some of the top players in the country on a daily basis.”


Walker, Montez and Alexander all mentioned that consistency will be a key factor for the 2012 season. Walker hopes to stay within himself and focus on improving every day. 


“I just want to help the team in any way possible this year,” Walker said. “I want to have a good season, but at the same time, I’m not going to put too much pressure on myself.”


His team-first mentality isn’t for show, and it doesn’t go unnoticed.


“There isn’t a single player that doesn’t love him,” Alexander said. “He is a model person and does what he’s supposed to do.”


Walker again will be called on to do a little bit of everything. That includes leading a Dolphins team that features a little more experience and depth than last year’s Regional team. Including Walker, five of the team’s top six hitters return in Dan Gulbransen (.370/6/52/.491 OBA), Taylor Ratliff (.330/1/24/25 SB), Kevin Lehane (.318/8/43) and Jonathan Murphy (.312/5/49). And two starters – Steve Eagerton (9-0, 4.09 ERA) and Tony Mollica (3-4, 3.96, .206 BAA) – and closer/DH Chris Anderson (4-2, 3.91, 11 saves) also are back.


Every bit will be needed in the wide-open A-Sun.


But Jacksonville has Walker, a guy once desired by few now coveted by many.


“He hasn’t reached the tip of the iceberg yet,” Montez said. “His best years are ahead of him.”

(photos courtesy of Jacksonville Media Relations Office)