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OC Register: Angels grooming Jared Walsh to be their next two-way player


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TEMPE, Ariz. — A year ago, no one would have figured that Jared Walsh would be throwing a bullpen session in major-league camp as media members from both sides of the Pacific snapped pictures and shot video.

A year ago, Walsh was just an outfielder and first baseman, a 39th-round draft pick getting little recognition as a prospect.

Now, though, he’s following the footsteps of Shohei Ohtani, in camp trying to become the Angels’ second two-way player.

After his first bullpen session of the spring, Walsh stood at his locker surrounded by a dozen reporters, from both sides of the Pacific.

“I guess it’s pretty cool, but I have to prove myself a helluva lot more than one bullpen,” Walsh said with a smile.

While the Angels will need to wait awhile to get Ohtani back at full strength after Tommy John surgery, they have Walsh.

A former two-way player in college at the University of Georgia, Walsh had made occasional cameos on the mound in the minors. He showed enough potential as a left-handed pitcher that last fall the Angels sent him to instructional league to get formal pitching instruction.

Now, he’s here in big league camp listed as a two-way player, working out with all of the other pitchers.

“Right now I’m a pitcher,” Walsh said. “When the position players come in, I’m going to be a pitcher and a hitter. It’s really exciting. I’m really looking forward to the whole process. I think it’s going to be interesting.”

Walsh, a 25, is different from Ohtani in a couple significant ways, besides the level of accomplishment.

Ohtani is a starting pitcher and a designated hitter. Walsh is a position player who could also be used as a reliever. While Ohtani usually split his time, focusing on one or the other in a game, Walsh had been used a few times in the minors in both roles. He’d be playing in the field and then come straight to the mound.

“Really Little League style,” he said.

In the majors, that would be tougher to pull off because the Angels would lose their DH for the remainder of the game in that scenario. It would be easier to do in a National League park.

For now, it’s just an experiment, one that is clearly influenced by Ohtani’s success.

“I think as a result of Shohei’s ability to play both sides of the baseball, I think you are going to see two-way players a little more frequently, which takes the idea of versatility to the ultimate level,” manager Brad Ausmus said.

Angels prospect Jared Walsh prepares to step to the plate as a member of the Inland Empire 66ers during a California League season opener against the San Jose Giants at San Manuel Stadium in San Bernardino, Calif. on April 5, 2018.<br />(TERRY PIERSON,THE PRESS-ENTERPRISE/SCNG)

Former Angels infielder Kaleb Cowart is now with the Detroit Tigers, who plan to try him as a two-way player. Matt Davidson signed with the Texas Rangers, also with that idea.

Those two have already been in the majors as position players, while Walsh is trying to get there for the first time, in whatever role possible.

“We feel like he’s got a chance to do both at the major league level, especially with the season he had offensively,” Ausmus said.

Last season Walsh hit .277 with 29 homers, splitting his time between Single-A, Double-A and Triple-A. He also pitched in eight games, allowing one earned run in 5 2/3 innings. He struck out seven.

And that was without any real instruction.

In the fall, he got a crash course on mechanics and how to take care of his arm like a pitcher. Now, he’s in major league camp doing drills with all of the other pitchers.

He said he plans to talk to Ohtani sometime, although he hasn’t yet.

“I am just trying to learn,” he said. “I just want to be a baseball player. If they ask me to play the outfield, I’ll play the outfield. If they ask me to play first, I’ll do that. If they ask me to pitch, I’ll do that. It’s just fun. Kind of not knowing what you’re going to do every day when you show up to the park is really exciting. It doesn’t get monotonous. It’s going to be pretty cool.”

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This would be an interesting way for teams to solve the current roster crunch. I've always thought they needed to expand rosters by at least one spot to accommodate the 12-13 man pitching staffs that are now standard-- which could be exaggerated if teams start moving toward having 6 starters. However, if your 12th pitcher is also your 4th outfielder, that can ease the roster crunch and allow teams to have a catcher, middle infielder, an outfielder AND a corner infielder on the bench.

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