Q&A with Chris Walker

OF Chris Walker made his third straight all-star team this past season at Double-A, but the 2006 edition was his finest yet. The 26-year-old Walker finished with a career-best .292 average in 131 games, overcoming a strained hip flexor in mid-July and later being drilled in the head by a pitch from Reds prospect Homer Bailey.

You're getting ready for Winter Ball in Venezuela. What can you tell us about your upcoming trip there?

I got an invitation to go to Puerto La Cruz. I think it's going to be a great opportunity for me to hopefully better myself with the Cubs' organization just due to the fact that this is a very, very tough league to play in. I looked at our roster last year and we had guys like Carlos Zambrano, Renyel Pinto and Victor Martinez, so there are a lot of big leaguers that play in this league. I think it will be a good gauge to see where I am development-wise; to see whether I'm ready for the big leagues or if I'm not.

Where do you feel you're at in terms of development?

Honestly, as a player, I couldn't tell you that I'm not ready. I feel that I am ready to play at the major league level. I look at a lot of the guys who got promoted: Scott Moore, Carlos Marmol, Juan Mateo, Jose Reyes, Anibal Sanchez, Greg Miller. There are a lot of guys that I faced this year who are at the major league level and are successful. Gauging myself both against them and with them, I feel I'm ready to play at the big league level. Right now, all it takes is an opportunity and that's what I'm waiting on.

What are some of the things you hope to work on down in Venezuela?

As of right now, I still want to master my bunting, so I'll probably be working on that a little bit; also my base-stealing, just due to the fact that it was down compared to the last two years; and just finding ways to become a guy who hits for a .300 average and has an on-base percentage of .400. There are so many aspects and other things in this game that I want to work on. I feel this is going to be a great opportunity for me to go down there and work with Luis Dorante, who was the manager for Carolina. He gave me tidbits here or there before the games we played against them. I think it's going to be good to pick his brain, and to pick the brains of a couple of guys that are going to be on our team. I'm excited about the opportunity.

You made your third straight all-star team this past season, but do you feel this was your best year yet?

Yeah, I think this was my best year from many aspects, especially hitting. I cut down on many of my strikeouts. I think my walks went up a little bit. My average was there and I had a good year defensively. I made the mid-season and post-season all-star teams, so that was a big honor and a big nod for me as a player. It's something else that I have to build myself upon and have to gauge with because year after year, I want to get better. I don't want to stay at the same level or fall behind, which I've seen a lot of guys do. It's going to be a good gauge for me next year and now I have to beat all of the numbers I had last season.

There was some friction between the Jaxx and the Chattanooga ballclub, specifically with Homer Bailey beaning you in the head with a pitch. Is there anything you want to say about that?

You know, I understand it's a part of the game for pitchers to establish their routines and their rhythms. But if you're going to hit somebody, personally I think you should never hit a player in the head. You could seriously injure somebody's career that way and I didn't take too kindly to that. I know all the guys on the Chattanooga team; I played against them the last three years. I didn't appreciate it. We weren't able to retaliate, which is part of the game, but it's one thing I'll never forget.

I'm pretty sure our paths will cross again and I feel like I came out on the better side of the whole ordeal. This guy is still young and arrogant, and he was just mad because we made him look bad and no other team did. He's got to learn the game. He's one of their top prospects, a Texas high school kid. It'll be something I'll never forget. All in due time, things will come back and get him. (laughs)

So you definitely felt that him hitting you was intentional?

Oh, definitely. If you could have been there that night, this guy was spotting his fastball 92 to 94 on the black; on the plate. He had unbelievable control and all of a sudden, he lets one go at 96 or 97 and it hits me in the head. It was very obvious that it was intentional, but I wasn't going to let him see that he knocked me down to hurt me. I got back up and got on base.

I stepped back into the box and dared him to throw me back inside again. I guess maybe he felt that I wasn't intimidated. He didn't throw me a strike again until my next at-bat. He's a kid; I'm not worried about it and if I face him again in the big leagues, I'll make sure I show him up.

Looking back at last off-season, you trained with Michael Barrett. Are there any plans for the two of you to get back in the shop again this winter?

I haven't had a chance to talk to Mike yet. I want to give him some time to heal and recuperate from this past season. But we have the same agent and he passed a message on to me that he was mad at me that I was going to Venezuela to play ball instead of training with him. (laughs) As soon as I come back, Mike and I are going to get together and work out again. The guy had one heck of a year and just seeing his hard work and what he's done makes me excited to come back and work with him so that I can take my game to the next level. Obviously, he did that this year and I saw his results, so I figure if I can work out with him and push myself, maybe my results will be just as good if not better.

Have you talked to Michael since his injury last month?

Nah, not yet. I was just going to leave him alone about the whole thing. That's one thing I didn't want to call and ask him about, but I'll probably talk to him before I leave.

As a minor leaguer, what opinions do you have on the Dusty Baker/Andy MacPhail front, if any?

I'm just a player, so I don't know what's going on with the whole front office situation, but I'm guessing the Tribune Company felt it was time for a change and they're making the necessary steps to make one. As a player, I just have to sit back and let whatever happens happen. I know Jim Hendry is going to do the things necessary to help the Cubs win. We have a great farm system and hopefully next year we'll see a couple more of our prospects get up there and help the big league team out.

For now, though, what's your playoff/World Series prediction?

That's tough to say. Out of the National League, before Pedro Martinez and El Duque got hurt, I would have said the Mets. But I'm going to go with the Yankees and the Dodgers right now. Both teams look strong and the Yankees' lineup just looks ridiculous. When you have Robinson Cano, who was third in the league in hitting, batting ninth, that's a tough lineup to go through. I'll go with the Yankees and Dodgers, and right now, I'd say the Yankees are going to win it.

How many of the younger guys on the Dodgers' roster have you played against?

I played against Matt Kemp for the last two years and he's a phenomenal ballplayer and a great talent. Also, there's Kuo, who I faced last year in Vero. He's got great stuff. It's really good to see guys that you played against and competed against up in the big leagues, because you reminisce about the times you played them and the times you talked to them. It's fun to watch them play at the next level!

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