By Matt Remsberg, Special to SI.com, SchoolSports.com
Mansfield (Mansfield, Texas) senior Jordan Walden is a firm believer that actions speak louder than words. It's a philosophy born primarily out of his soft-spoken nature, but one that has served him well as he's made the transition from local pitching standout to national gem.
So whenever possible, Walden lets his arm do the talking. A wise move considering that right arm will most likely propel the star pitcher into the first round of June's MLB Draft. Walden, a 6-foot-5, 225-pound right-hander who is rated the nation's No. 1 high school baseball prospect in the Class of 2006 by SchoolSports.com, has committed to Texas but will likely never throw a pitch for the Longhorns. He earned the Baseball America Pitching Prospect of the Year Award in 2005 and is a near lock to be selected in the first half of the first round when the draft kicks off June 6.
"If I feel like I'm ready, I'm going to take my shot this time around," says Walden, who also plays first base and right field for Mansfield when he's not pitching. "I just need to prove to myself that I can consistently be in command."
No matter how far Walden makes it, he will never be confused for Curt Schilling -- a hard-throwing pitcher who has never seen a microphone he didn't like. However, Schilling's new teammate with the Boston Red Sox, right-hander Josh Beckett, is a more apt comparison. The fiery Beckett, who measures in at a very comparable 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, just so happens to be Walden's favorite big league pitcher.
Walden never saw Beckett pitch for Houston-area Spring High in the late 1990s. But as he watched a then-23-year-old Beckett win Game 6 of the 2003 World Series to clinch the title for the Marlins, Walden's career dreams took shape.
"He was so young and was totally dominating the Yankees," says Walden of Beckett, who was selected out of high school with the second overall pick of the 1999 draft. "It had been my dream my whole life to be a major league pitcher, and after seeing that, it really hit home that it was possible."
A sophomore in high school at the time, Walden surely wasn't the only aspiring pitcher to watch Beckett that October night and come away with a little extra motivation. But there aren't many athletes who have had better careers since.
Months after Beckett silenced the Bronx Bombers, Walden earned a spot in the Tigers' rotation and went on to be named District 4-5A Sophomore of the Year. He won five games in the regular season that spring, fanning 55 batters while hitting .373 with four home runs and 15 RBI at the plate.
Walden came back as a junior last year to post an 8-4 mark with a 1.25 ERA and 131 strikeouts. At the plate, his average jumped to .488 and he totaled five homers and 44 RBI to lead Mansfield to the Class 5A Region I finals.
"He's the type of athlete that doesn't come along very often," says Mansfield coach Gary Vaughan. "And the people in this area know it. People that ordinarily wouldn't come to our games are coming to see him play."