July 18, 2009
By David Driver
For the Deseret News
Used with permission
VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Kent Walton lined a 1-0 pitch over the head of the left fielder here Monday night, clearing the bases with a three-run double against the Boise Hawks.
As he skipped back to second base, Walton clapped his hands in a refrained outward show of satisfaction with a job well done.
The sight of right-hander Walton, 22, getting a hit and driving in runs has been a familiar one in his first month as a professional baseball player.
Drafted out of BYU in June by the Oakland Athletics, the designated hitter for the Vancouver Canadians ranked among the top 20 hitters in the short-season Northwest League with a batting average of .317 in games through July 16.
Walton, drafted in the 23rd round by the A's in early June, had four hits here Saturday, two more on Sunday and then the bases-loaded double Monday for his team's only runs in a 6-3 loss to Boise. In his first 101 at bats over 25 games, he had 10 doubles, a homer, 15 RBIs and a slugging percentage of .446.
"I have been seeing the ball and I have been getting a lot of pitches to hit, and I have been hitting them," Walton said during batting practice before a recent game at Nat Bailey Stadium. "It is a little thicker air here, so we have one of the tougher parks to hit in. You never know what you are going to get here."
Walton was drafted in the 42nd round by the A's in 2008 but decided to play as a senior at BYU. He said being taken in the 23rd round was as good as he could expect as a senior who had shoulder surgery in September of 2008.
While he has been hitting well as a DH for the Canadians, Walton hopes he is able to play in the field soon.
"My goal is to find a way to get to first base, second base or left field by the end of the season," said Walton, who has been hitting third or fourth in the Canadians' batting order. "I want to make a full-season team next year. I really want to make a roster there. I want to prove I can play a full season."
Although he is new to pro ball, Walton got some tips from a former Major League all-star even before he joined the A's. In the summer of 2007, he played in a collegiate wooden-bat league, and his family host in California was Steve Garvey, the former Los Angeles Dodgers' star first baseman.
"He would talk to us about hitting during batting practice," Walton said.
Now the former BYU standout is brushing up on another California franchise. Walton has a copy of "Moneyball," the book about the approach of the Oakland A's to scouting and player development. He carries a copy of the book in his backpack and reads it on road trips.
And Walton is also adjusting to using wooden bats on a regular basis.
"You really have to hit the ball true. Your mistakes show up when you hit with a wooden bat," he said.
Vancouver is the only Canadian city with a minor league baseball team affiliated with a Major League club. It is also the largest city in North America with a minor league team. Walton has been living with a host family in Vancouver, site of the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Vancouver is one of eight teams in the Northwest League. The next stop up the Oakland minor league ladder is Kane County (Ill.) in the full-season low Class A Midwest League. The Northwest League has some of the longest bus rides in pro baseball. Vancouver begins a series July 29 at Boise and the bus trip is expected to last 13 hours.
But Walton noted BYU took a bus trip of about 14 hours to Santa Barbara, Calif., when he played for the Cougars. So far, the California resident has handled everything thrown his way as a pro.
Casey Myers, the Vancouver hitting coach, said the shoulder surgery has not affected Walton at the plate.
"A lot of guys, there is a little grace period between college and the pros. His transition has been seamless," Myers said. "He has an advanced approach (at the plate). He knows his strengths and weaknesses. He has really bought into the A's philosophy. He is a hard worker. He has been a joy to work with."
Walton said he really enjoys working with Myers, who also had labrum surgery during his playing career.
"I just really like him. He is a student of the game," Walton said. "He helps you with the mental game of hitting that a lot of people don't take into account. When you are going through a slump, he will be there for you."
But so far, there have been few slumps for Walton in his first month in pro ball.