New Year, Fresh Start for RHP Walker Lockett

SAN DIEGO, CA - APRIL 5 : U.S. Navy sailors roll out a huge American flag before the Padres home opener between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres at Petco Park on April 5, 2012 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - APRIL 5 : U.S. Navy sailors roll out a huge American flag before the Padres home opener between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres at Petco Park on April 5, 2012 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images) /

After being promoted to the San Diego Padres’ 40-man roster prior to the 2017 season, RHP Walker Lockett was sure to earn a call-up to the majors sooner rather than later. However, a back injury sidelined him for most of 2017. What will a fresh start in 2018 mean for the former fourth-round draft pick?

Last season was supposed to be the year that San Diego Padres’ RHP Walker Lockett finally reached the major leagues. After spending five seasons working his way through the Arizona League up to AAA, Lockett was added to Padres’ 40-man roster for 2017. Unfortunately, the former fourth-round draft pick was bitten yet again by the injury bug and missed nearly three months.

Lockett has endured a long journey to get to where he is now. He was drafted in 2012 out of Providence School of Jacksonville (HS) as a pitcher. Ironically, he had never focused exclusively on pitching until his sophomore year of high school. A series of shoulder injuries and blisters hindered his early development. It took nearly 3 years and 30 appearances before he earned his first professional win in 2015.

Lockett’s brief stint with the short-season A-ball Tri-City Dust Devils first showed his true potential as a starting pitcher. He compiled a 3-0 record with a 2.83 earned run average in 11 games started. His K/BB ratio ended at 47/10 in 57 innings of work.

That performance carried over into 2016. Lockett was awarded the 2016 Padres’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year award after working through four minor league levels (full-season A-AAA) and compiling a combined 10-9 record, 2.96 ERA, 123/24 K/BB ratio, and a .240 opponents’ batting average over 164 innings.

Lockett’s 2017 season was derailed by a lingering back injury.

Lockett’s momentum at the start of last season suddenly came to a halt. He started 10 games for the AAA El Paso Chihuahuas (including a 6 IP, 1 ER, 0 BB, 8 K opening day win). Lockett quickly fell victim to a back injury that sidelined him from May 26th to August 17th.  

Lockett made five rehab appearances in the Arizona League before returning to El Paso for the Pacific Coast League playoffs. He ended his 2017 season in game three of the championship series, going five innings and giving up four hits, zero earned runs, one walk, and three strikeouts in the win.

Now entering his age-24 season, Walker Lockett will look to go into spring training to compete for a starting rotation spot.

Where does Lockett slot at the major league level?

He’s a sinkerball pitcher who induces a high percentage of ground balls, fitting the MO of San Diego pitchers. You won’t see him blow away a lot of hitters with high-velocity fastballs. Instead, Lockett is a pitch-to-contact pitcher who relies on his sinker and defense behind him to do the majority of the work.

It’s Lockett’s secondary pitches that appear to be most concerning. While he possesses a plus-fastball and sinker, his changeup and slider significantly lag behind. The deceptive arm action allows his secondary pitches to play up at the minor league level.

Scouts give mixed evaluations when it comes to Lockett’s future. His lack of secondary pitches and command of the pitches within the strike zone will obviously not fare well in the big leagues. Moving him into a bullpen role may be more beneficial. Shorter stints would allow Lockett to use his 6’5”225-pound frame with max effort, leading to higher velocity and more sweeping/breaking action.

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Clinton Riddle of SB Nation’s believes that Lockett is a back-end of the rotation starter at the major league level. Since he’s not a “flame-throwing, strikeout guy,” Riddle says Lockett can easily put his injury history behind him and continue to focus on being a sinker-slider, groundball pitcher.

Chris Mitchell of Fangraphs is also high on Lockett. During the 2017 season, Mitchell published his KATOH projections of all prospects with an FV grade of lower than 40. A grade of 40 means that a prospect projects as a bench player/middle reliever at the major league level. Lockett, according to FanGraphs, was graded at lower than a 40, but Mitchell projected Lockett to make an impact at the major league level. In fact, of all the right-handed pitchers on Mitchell’s list, Lockett tied for seventh for highest KATOH projection.

What will a fresh 2018 bring for Walker Lockett?

He’s coming off an up-and-down Arizona Fall League performance. Lockett started 6 games, putting in 22 innings of work for the Peoria Javelinas. He gave up 30 hits, 4 home runs, and 9 walks while striking out 22 hitters and finishing with a 5.40 ERA. However, he did finish the fall season with a six-inning performance that saw him give up just two hits, one earned run, and one walk. He struck out six in the finale.

Lockett’s splits vs left and right-handed hitters in the AFL were unique. The right-handed pitcher struggled mightily against right-handed batters.

vs LHB: 12.1 IP, 17 hits allowed (.321 average), 2.92 ERA, 0 HR allowed

vs RHP: 12.2 IP, 13 hits allowed (.265 average), 7.82 ERA, 4 HR allowed

Lockett faces an uphill battle to make the Padres’ starting rotation. Chris Young and Tyson Ross  were both recently signed to minor league deals. RHP Jordan Lyles was also re-signed to a one-year deal.  

Locks for rotation look to be: Clayton Richard, Luis Perdomo, and Dinelson Lamet. That leaves Young, Ross, Lyles, Bryan Mitchel (acquired along with Chase Headley from the Yankees), Colin Rea, Robbie Erlin, Matt Strahm, and Lockett competing for two rotation spots. Expect at least one-two more arms to be brought in before spring training.

Lockett appears set to return to El Paso in 2018, but not for long. It’s a brand new year, one in which Walker Lockett will finally make his long-awaited MLB debut at Petco Park.

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