CHICAGO -- Those fans who attended the 2011 NJCAA World Series in Grand Junction, Colorado, had a chance to see a player who just might be the White Sox leadoff man in three years performing at his optimum level.
"During the World Series, he really proved himself as one of the best players in JUCO baseball," said Central Arizona College baseball coach John Wente of Keenyn Walker, the White Sox top pick in the 2011 First-Year Player, selected at No. 47 in Compensation Round A on Monday.
"He did a little bit of everything," Wente added. "He stole bases. We stuck him in right field and he threw a guy out at first base on a base hit. He hits an [opposite-field] homer left-handed. He hit an inside-the-park home run. He showed everyone at the tournament he's a special player."
That special talent truly came to the surface during Walker's second season with Central Arizona.
In 2010, Walker hit .299 with 16 RBIs and 42 runs scored over 58 games. It was his first year out of Judge Memorial High School in Utah and his first year where he wasn't stealing bases for part of the year and setting interception records as a defensive back for the other part.
Giving up football was a tough decision, according to comments made by Walker during a Tuesday conference call. But once he decided baseball was the way to go, his talent really seemed to explode.
"Out of high school, I really wanted to play football," Walker said. "I still miss it to this day. Something hit me one day, and it was that baseball was what I wanted to do. I had more of a future there and stuck with it.
"Last year was kind of a disappointment, my freshman year at school. I didn't play that much. But, this year, I got in a groove. I got better, hit the weight room harder and worked out harder."
Walker's work ethic translated into amazing numbers during the 2011 season.
As a 20-year-old sophomore, Walker batted .402 (86-for-214) with 11 doubles, eight triples and four home runs. He added in 50 RBIs, 76 runs scored and 65 stolen bases in 68 attempts over 63 games.
About the only thing missing from Walker's resume was a NJCAA championship. Navarro College grabbed a 6-4 victory in 10 innings, but it was Walker who helped make it possible for the Vaqueros to get that far.
"He was unbelievable this year," Wente said. "The reason why we had the year we had was Keenyn Walker. He made our offense go. He put a lot of pressure on the defense. That was one of the better years we had in our place.
"Keenyn has all the tools to make a great baseball player. He can run, hit for power, hit for average. He can play center field and has a plus arm. There are so many ways he can impact a game."
One of the biggest changes Walker had to make was going from a colder weather area in Utah for high school to an area in Arizona near Casa Grande, between Phoenix and Tucson, where games were never rained out. Walker had to figure out what it takes to play the game every day, a solution he clearly found.
"It has been a fun part to see," Wente said. "It has been fun to see his maturation and to see him grow."
The Cubs took Walker in the 16th round coming out of high school in 2009, but Walker very candidly said on Tuesday that the Cubs didn't offer the right amount of money and he felt a little more was there to be had. In 2010, the Phillies selected Walker in the 38th round.
This missed signing was about timing, as Walker already had his books and classes set when the Phillies made their offer. Walker has committed to Utah, potentially playing for the hometown university.
But Walker's comments on Tuesday made it seem as if he is strongly leaning toward joining the White Sox.
"I definitely want to sign and start my career in pro ball, but another year in school won't hurt," Walker said. "It's really whatever to me, but I definitely want to sign."
"You are talking about a hometown kid going home to play in the new PAC 12, so I don't know which way he'll go," Wente said. "I think he's ready this year to finally be a professional player. I was not 100 percent sure I was ready to say that last year. What he decides is up to him and his family, but he feels ready to go out."
If Walker reaches the Majors, he'll join other former Central Arizona standouts turned big league players such as Ian Kinsler, Scott Hairston, Rich Harden, Tom and Matt Pagnozzi, Dan Wheeler and Aaron Myette. Playing for the White Sox certainly would be a thrill, for both Walker and the organization, if Walker lives up to his projected ability. But it might not be as thrilling as hearing his name called on Monday.
"When I heard my name, I was in shock," Walker said. "All I could hear was my mom screaming and that was about it.
"I'm going to let the cards play, but I want to be in the big leagues by three years. Other than that, you never know what's going to happen. I just need to work hard every day. I still have room for improvement."