When he was last at the Tempe Diablo baseball complex, minor leaguer Jared Walsh was preparing himself for a few weeks of early-fall instruction, uneasy about his future with the Angels.
He had a career .294 batting average and .856 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. But he was a 39th-round pick from the 2015 draft who, at 25, was still striking out more than 25% of the time. Despite advancing to triple A, he did not have a clear-cut path to the major leagues.
That may no longer be the case. Walsh was asked to focus his energy on becoming a full-bore two-way player during the instructional league that began late September, and was then asked to his first major league spring training camp as a nonroster invitee. The Angels believe Walsh, who dabbled in pitching and playing the field in a limited capacity last year, can become a major league-caliber reliever and also play a position and hit.
“He’s got the arm strength and he’s got a pretty good curveball,” manager Brad Ausmus said Thursday.
Walsh improved his versatility at the Angels’ behest. It was his first time pitching with some regularity since he was playing at the University of Georgia. He wound up making eight appearances last year — two of them after playing first base or right field — over three minor league stops.
He was regarded as an emergency pitcher, not a superstar like two-way player Shohei Ohtani, the 2018 American League rookie of the year who had elbow ligament-replacement surgery in October and will not pitch until 2020 at the earliest.
“They had kind of given me a head’s up if stuff went haywire to be prepared,” Walsh said.
Walsh threw fastballs in the low-90s and spun breaking pitches. Although he allowed 1.41 walks or hits per inning pitched, he struck out seven batters in 5 2/3 innings and allowed only one earned run.
The left-hander is among few players across baseball dividing time during spring training between pitching and hitting as a position player. A couple of others are Tampa Bay Rays prospect Brendan McKay, who was drafted as a two-way player in 2017; and former White Sox designated hitter Matt Davidson, who told the Texas Rangers when he signed a minor league deal with them that he’d like a chance to fill in as a reliever when the need arises. The Angels also count minor leaguer William English, who was drafted last year, in their group of two-way players. He is not in big league camp.
Walsh’s in-season schedule might be tougher to balance than Ohtani’s last year, when he didn’t hit the day before or after he was scheduled to start. Walsh trained as a pitcher and picked up pertinent arm-care routine during the offseason. Still, the Angels must devise a way to keep him fresh enough to pitch at a moment’s notice while still allowing him to bat and field his position on a regular basis.
“I’m just happy with the way it’s worked out,” said Walsh, who was eligible to be picked up by a team in the December Rule 5 draft but was left unclaimed. “Not where I want to be by any means, but so far it’s been good and I hope to keep progressing.”