Spring Training Goggles: Zach Walters

Every season there is a player that sticks out in Spring Training to me. It
doesn’t matter what the player has done over his entire career; there is always
one guy whose success in 40 Spring Training at bats causes me to ignore his
entire past. This season that player is Zach Walters, the 23 year old
switch-hitting shortstop that the Nationals received in the 2011 trade that
sent Jason Marquis to Arizona.

Through Monday, March 11, Walters put up
a .333/.385/.583 triple slash in 26 plate appearances, including 2 home runs.
Given the fact that his Baseball Reference OppQual of 7.6 stands a little
closer to AAA than AA quality of competition (and nowhere near the MLB level)
and the fact that it’s 26 plate appearances, there is really nothing there to
draw conclusions from. Yet still, I am more optimistic about Walters in March
of 2013 than I was in October of 2012 despite no real games having been played
in between.

Throughout his career, Walters has rarely
been seen as a top 10 prospect, which is somewhat surprising given the fact
that he’s a switch hitting shortstop with power, speed and a rocket arm. His
minor league numbers have never been awful by any means, but not excellent,
either. He managed to hit above .300 in his first two seasons with OPS’s of
.778 and .824 before slumping to a .266/.302/.418 slash line in 484 plate
appearances in 2012. Walters failed to steal 10 bases for the first season in
his career in 2012 and put up a ghastly 24/109 BB/K ratio, but both categories
look like outliers compared to his first two seasons (as does his 12 HR total
in 2012 after 13 combined HR between 2010-11.

This winter in the Puerto Rican Baseball
League, Walters hit .254/.309/.336 in 122 at bats with 10 doubles and no home
runs for the Leones de Ponce. Walters put up a disappointing 10/31 BB/K ratio
and was caught stealing in 5 out of his 7 stolen base attempts. Given that none
of Walters’ teammates who played regularly put up an OPS above .777 and the team’s
pitchers (led by Nationals great Zach Segovia) put up an ERA of 3.50, the park
appears to play more towards the pitchers. That and it is silly to draw
conclusions out of 122 Winter League at bats.

Walters is a scout’s dream; at 6 foot 3
and 195 lbs, he is the type of physical specimen who can develop more game
power as he grows into his body. While his arm can absolutely play at shortstop
or third base in the big leagues, Walters could get placed in more of a utility
role due to below average range up the middle. He is not so much “gritty” like
a Steve Lombardozzi type that has to use every ounce of effort to make up for
not having as much natural talent as many other players; rather, he is a Danny
Espinosa type of player who is naturally gifted but plays hard to the point
where his aggressive nature leads to errors in the field and on the basepaths
as well as plate discipline issues.

In order to live up to his potential,
Walters needs to find a happy medium between his skills and his aggression so
he doesn’t overplay and make as many mistakes. He could make an appearance in
DC in 2013 if the injury bug strikes, but more likely Walters will spend most
of the season in the minors to get more seasoning before trying again at the
big leagues in 2014.

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