Knocking It Out of the Park
Oak Island resident Walker Jenkins, a recent graduate of South Brunswick High School, is a top-five pick for July’s Major League Baseball draft.
When Walker Jenkins was six years old, he did not make his Little League’s All-Star baseball team. Although he was playing up in age, he fully expected to be as good, if not better, than his eight-year-old teammates.
“I held high expectations for myself even as a little kid, so not making that team really bothered me,” remembers the Oak Island native. “That’s where it sparked for me with baseball, and when I knew I wanted to be the best.”
At 18 years old, Jenkins is now on the cusp of becoming just that. The recent South Brunswick High School graduate is the top high schooler in the upcoming 2023 MLB draft and the 4th-ranked draft prospect overall. His powerful left-handed swing, dominance in the outfield and spot-on game-time instincts have drawn the attention and appreciation of agents, scouts, and fans from across the country.
“Walker has always been a very hard worker, even as a kid,” says Jenkins’ father, Clay. “He would get up in the morning before school, and [his mother] Tana and I would hear him down in the garage hitting on his own, which was a little unusual.”
“I didn’t realize it was weird that an eight-year-old wanted to get up 30 minutes early to go hit baseballs or to watch a baseball highlight show on TV each morning,” agrees Jenkins’ younger sister, Molly. “I just thought it was what all older brothers did, so I didn’t understand until recently that Walker was different.”
Naturally athletic his whole life and having dabbled in soccer, football and a variety of other sports, Jenkins says he ultimately chose baseball as his primary focus because it challenged him the most. His favorite part of every game is when he is at bat, because he believes hitting is a component of baseball that can never be perfected.
“One thing I love about hitting is it’s a work in progress, and I’m always trying to figure out what I can do to help myself improve and be more successful,” he says. “I also love playing center field, and when I’m out there I feel extremely confident. I think I’m a great communicator, and I believe I understand the game of baseball more than just about anyone my age.”
Following his early days in the Dixie Youth Southport/Oak Island recreational baseball league, Jenkins began playing with several travel leagues from elementary school through high school, his most recent time being with the South Charlotte Panthers. Around the start of his freshman year in high school and after winning several prominent tournaments with his travel teams, big-name universities both in state and in the ACC began taking notice.
By the end of 2019, he had received his first of many college offers, and he ultimately committed to the University of North Carolina in the summer of 2020. That same summer Jenkins headed to Atlanta for a baseball showcase along with many of the other top players from across the country; at that event, Jenkins’ father started seeing his son’s true potential.
“I was watching and thinking he was better than the others from a skill level,” Clay says. “Sitting there from a no-name town, I was flooded by scouts and agents, and it was completely overwhelming.”
Clay says his son has said his entire life that he was going to play in Major League Baseball. “We’ve always replied ‘Well that’s great, Bud, keep working,’ just like other parents say to their kids all the time,” Clay says. “I don’t know when it went from just saying it to believing it, but at some point, it happened.”
Following the showcase, the Perfect Game organization ranked 16-year-old Jenkins as one of the best players in the country, and in the summer of 2021, Team USA invited him to try out. Although up against 100 of the nation’s top 17- and 18-year-old players, Jenkins was chosen as one of 20 high school players (and the only one from North Carolina) to represent Team USA that summer.
Jenkins’ time on the national team kindled a new experience for him: fan mail. People from across the country were purchasing his baseball cards and sending them to be signed, along with letters, balls and even more sizable items.
“One guy actually sent a brand-new baseball bat and glove in the mail, and at first I was excited and asked my mom if I’d gotten some new equipment I didn’t know about,” Jenkins says. “Nope, someone had just sent them for me to sign, which caught me off guard, but I thought that was pretty cool.”
Jenkins says he makes it a priority to autograph every item sent his way.
“If you’re going to buy my card or take the time to send me something, it doesn’t take much time out of my day to sign it,” he says. “Especially for the younger kids. I remember being that age and if I could have gotten an autograph from a player I looked up to, it would have meant the world to me.”
In both 2022 and 2023, Gatorade named Jenkins as its Player of the Year, as did the Mideastern 3A/4A Conference. The North Carolina Baseball Coaches Association also selected Jenkins as this year’s 3A Player of the Year. With so much attention and recognition from far and wide, Jenkins says he appreciates the love he has received from his family, friends and teammates in South Brunswick County most of all.
“The support from the community has been amazing, and I couldn’t have grown up in a place where I felt more supported,” he says. “In this small beach community, everybody has truly cared and wanted the best for me.”
Jenkins is preparing to start school at UNC, but is also looking forward to the upcoming MLB draft in July. Although he knows he will always be tied to his hometown, he is excited for what the future holds.
“I’m looking forward to seeing new things, meeting new people and getting out there,” he says. “I definitely won’t forget about the people here or the place I’ve grown up, but I’m ready to move on to the next chapter in my life, whatever that may be.”