“Some people like to think I came from nothing,” the recent McEachern graduate said. “Instead, I feel like I come from a lot.”
Despite growing up without a father and losing his older brother, Clint Gilbert, to a heart attack the day before New Year’s Eve, Walker saw his dreams come true Friday when he was selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the fifth round of Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft.
Walker, a Kennesaw State signee, was one of several local players selected on Day 2 of the draft.
Kennesaw State’s Bo Way and former Wheeler High School standout Dale Carey went in the seventh round to the Los Angeles Angels and Washington Nationals, respectively, Pope product Steve Wilkerson in the eighth to the Baltimore Orioles and Harrison product Adam Martin in the 10th to the Seattle Mariners.
Walker, a 6-foot-2, 195-pound infielder, was by his mother’s hospital bed along with family and friends when he got the news he was drafted. His mother contracted cellulitis, a bacterial skin infection.
“I’ve been by my mom’s side the past week and a half, so this was a big day for us,” Walker said.
The day took a bit of a twist, with Walker getting drafted as he was talking with another organization.
“I was on the phone with the Mariners talking numbers when the guy congratulated me and told me don’t worry about the numbers because I had just been drafted by the Dodgers,” Walker said. “I knew I had a chance to go early, and I knew the Dodgers were interested in me, but I had no idea who was going to take me. This is a dream come true.”
Walker was also with his brother, 2013 McEachern graduate Nick Walker, and mentors Josh Burrus and Todd Harris when he was selected. Burrus, a Wheeler graduate, had gone through the process before as a first-round pick of the Atlanta Braves in 2001. Harris, former the baseball coach at Pebblebrook, now coaches at Woodstock.
“Those guys, my coaches and my trainer, Mike Butler, have really helped me get through this process,” Walker said. “I didn’t have a dad in my life, and when I lost my brother, I knew I had to make my senior year my biggest year yet. I had to grind so that I could get this opportunity, and now it’s here.
“The Dodgers are a great organization and they’ll give me the time to develop. They haven’t given me an offer yet, but it’s the Dodgers, and if the money’s right, I believe I’ll go (pro).”
The other four local draftees Friday were college seniors.
Way, a 6-foot, 180-pound center fielder, was with his Kennesaw State teammates in Louisville, Ky., preparing for their NCAA super regional when he received word he’d been drafted by the Angels.
“I’m just honored and humbled to be in this position,” Way said in a statement. “I’m grateful for Kennesaw State and coach Mike Sansing for giving me the opportunity to advance my baseball career and for the Los Angeles Angels for allowing me to take it a step further.”
The 6-2, 207-pound Carey, selected in the 21st round in 2010 by the Pittsburgh Pirates, went on to have a stellar career at Miami, leading the Hurricanes with a .305 average this past season. He was the only player to start all 63 games and led the team in hits (75), ranked second in home runs (7) and was tied for third in RBIs (29).
“So thankful for the opportunity to play at the next level,” Carey tweeted. “I’m beyond blessed to be able to continue doing what I love!!”
The 6-1, 185-pound Wilkerson hit .317 with six home runs, 18 doubles, 42 RBI and eight stolen bases in 56 games for Clemson this past season.
“It was a good decision for me to go back to Clemson for my senior year,” said Wilkerson, who was in talks with major league teams after his junior season, but opted to remain with the Tigers.
“I had fun with my buddies, and I was fortunate teams had interest in me again. I was waiting around and hoped for a call and got it. I’m really excited to be a part of a great organization where I can learn and progress as much as I can.”
The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Martin batted .307 with 14 homers and 65 RBIs for Western Carolina.
“I’m still a little speechless,” Martin said. “I’ve had to work for everything, and this means I finally get to play pro ball. It’s the next step in the process.”
Martin will fly out to the Mariners’ spring training complex in Arizona on Sunday to take his physical, and then head to Everett, Wash., to play for the AquaSox, their low A-ball affiliate.
“They’re looking for me to move up fast through the minors into the big leagues,” Martin said. “I can’t wait for it all to start.”