Sox pick hopes to speed through minors

CHICAGO -- Setting a goal of being in the major leagues in three years, Keenyn Walker, the Chicago White Sox's first overall pick in the 2011 First Year Player Draft, has every intention of getting his professional career started this summer.

The 20-year-old speedy outfielder, who hails from Salt Lake City and played at Central Arizona Junior College the past two seasons, was the 47th overall pick Monday night. He has committed to the University of Utah, but said Tuesday, “I definitely want to sign and start my pro career.”

The White Sox lost their first-round pick after signing free agent Adam Dunn this past offseason, but got the 47th pick as compensation for J.J. Putz signing with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

After limited playing time at Central Arizona last season negated his productivity, Walker had a breakout sophomore season with a .402 batting average, 76 runs scored and 65 steals, while only being caught three times. One downside is his propensity to strike out.

“That has been a problem this year and I don’t know why,” Walker said. “I need to work on that and put the ball in play and use my speed. And really just use my work ethic and do all that I can to get to the top.”

Walker was a 16th-round pick by the Cubs in 2009 and a 38th round pick by the Phillies last year, and said he came close to signing both times.

He said negotiations with the Cubs broke of when the money was slightly less than he was looking for. The money was right with the Phillies, but he had already enrolled at Central Arizona and had bought books so he elected to continue his education. His decision to stay shot him up the draft board.

Always able to use his speed, Walker’s running game reached a new level this past season.

“I think my speed can definitely translate [to the major leagues],” Walker said. “When I was younger I used to just rely on my speed and this year I took into account getting reads on pitchers and using my ability and my smarts to steal bases. Once I got that down I got in a groove and kept stealing.”

In the second round, the White Sox selected hard-throwing Cal right-hander Erik Johnson, and then took three more pitchers after that. Johnson County Community College (Kansas) right-hander Jeff Soptic went 110th, Kent State right-hander Kyle McMillen went 141st and Stanford left-hander Scott Snodgress went 171st.

The White Sox also selected Johnson’s Cal teammate Marcus Semien, a shortstop, with the 201st overall pick, followed by Pitt catcher Kevan Smith (231st overall) and Angelina College (Texas) right-hander Ian Gardeck (261st).