Former Polk County standout would love to make North Carolina his 2019 baseball home

Published 8:00 am Saturday, December 15, 2018

Joel Booker would like nothing more than to make a move in 2019 to Charlotte.

That is certainly not an uncommon target for many Polk County High graduates. But a residence in the Queen City would mean another step toward Booker’s goal of reaching the major leagues.

Charlotte serves as home for the Chicago White Sox’s Triple-A affiliate. Booker wants nothing more than to call them his team during the year.

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“I feel like I’m definitely making strides and going in the right direction,” the former Polk County baseball standout recently said during a visit to the area. “There’s still a lot to do to get to the ultimate goal.”

Booker moved toward that goal of a spot in the majors with his performance in 2018, grabbing headlines and making his presence known in a White Sox organization loaded with outfield prospects.

He began the season at Class A Winston-Salem, hitting .297 with five homers and 14 steals. One of those steals, a game-winning swipe of home in the Dash’s home opener, lit up social media channels and earned Booker a spot on ESPN’s top plays for the day.

Booker capped his time in Winston-Salem by homering and earning MVP honors in the Carolina League All-Star Game. He then headed to Class AA Birmingham, where he finished with a .266 average and a healthy respect for the improvement in pitching at the level.

“I know they locate it a lot better. When they tell you they have command of all pitches, you don’t know what that means until you see it,” Booker said. “As a leadoff hitter, being at the plate and seeing off-speed pitches throughout the count is something you have to see to believe.

“I felt like I started to lay off the curveball a lot more. I was pretty happy with the season, but I still have to get better to get to that ultimate goal.”

In addition to return visits to Polk County, Booker is spending his offseason continuing to work on his swing. He credited last offseason’s adjustments for his development into a prospect that Future Sox, a blog devoted to covering Chicago’s minor league system, ranked as the 10th best among the organization’s outfielders.

“I’m pretty much doing the same thing this offseason,” Booker said. “I have a mental picture of what I want my swing to look like and a certain look I want to have in certain situations.

“Right now, it’s not where I want it. So I’m just taking video and looking at that until I see what I want. Then I’ll try to manipulate it and keep that.”

Booker’s also redoing other parts of his offseason regiment.

“I’m doing a lot of lifting. I’ve got a trainer now,” he said. “I’m also trying to eat right and just working on my swing.”

The common thinking among observers of the White Sox organization is that Booker will begin the season back in Birmingham. He will go to spring training looking to beat those expectations.

“In a perfect world, I’d go out to spring training and have a really good one and start the season at Charlotte,” Booker said. “I’m not certain of the likelihood of that, but it’s definitely a goal.

“I just need to show out and do everything I can to impress people.”

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