Throughout the hot streak that has begun to change the perception about who Jared Walsh is and who can be, he has chosen not to delve too deeply into how it happened.
In describing the swing he first brought to the major leagues, Walsh has a fairly simple description.
“Last year, I had a lot going on,” the Angels first baseman said. “You know, it works sometimes, but it wasn’t consistent enough.”
Less is definitely more when it comes to hitting in the majors.
Since eliminating much of the movement in his stance as he prepared for the pitch, Walsh has made himself an entirely different hitter, culminating in a sizzling week.
Over the past six games Walsh has 11 hits in 25 at-bats, a .440 average. It also includes a four-game span in which he homered in each game, including a game-tying homer in the eighth on Friday and a go-ahead homer in the 11th on Saturday.
Walsh is hitting .359 in 13 games since he was recalled from the Angels’ alternate site on Aug. 28, having been sent down after going hitless in 10 plate appearances in his first stint in the majors this season.
Last year, he hit .203 in 87 plate appearances in his first crack at the big leagues.
“There were some timing issues that I kind of realized when I got called up last year that I wanted to address,” Walsh said. “As hitters, we build habits, good and bad. For me it was trying to be more direct to the ball, a little more efficient, and stuff like that.”
When Walsh stepped into the box in 2019, his hands pumped up and down as the barrel of the bat wagged over his shoulder. Even when he started the 2020 season in the big leagues in July, he still had some of that excess movement.
But after being dispatched to Long Beach, Walsh finally got himself settled. Now, the hands are mostly still, the bat barely moving as he prepares to unleash his swing.
Manager Joe Maddon, who didn’t see him last year but did see him in spring training and summer camp, said Walsh has made significant strides.
“He’s not as jumpy, that’s the only way I can describe it,” Maddon said. “He has really good hands. The way he works the end of the bat, honestly, is an elite method.”
While Maddon concedes that it’s easy to get carried away with a small sample size, he is a believer that Walsh is not a fluke. He’s also a big fan of his defense at first.
“It’s no secret as to why he’s been doing what he’s been doing,” Maddon said. “With good health, and if he can just maintain some real simple mechanical issues, he could do this for a while.”
If Walsh, 27, is beginning to carve out any sort of significant big league career, that would be a remarkable success story.
A product of the University of Georgia, Walsh was selected in the 39th round of the draft, which is normally reserved for high school kids who have no chance to sign or the scouting director’s nephew. He never was given much consideration as a top prospect.
Also a pitcher in college, Walsh had been used as a mop up reliever throughout the minors. The Angels actually sent him to instructional league to refine his work as a pitcher to make it a more viable part of his toolbox.
When Walsh finally reached the majors in 2019, he did so as both a pitcher and a hitter. He appeared in five games, all with lopsided scores.
The Angels still viewed him all along as primarily a hitter, though, and in that respect he struggled in his first taste of the big leagues. He didn’t feel much better about things this year.
Part of the problem, he said, was that he never does well in spring training. Then the pandemic shut down the sport, and then it shut him down. Walsh tested positive for COVID-19 in June and spent three weeks on his couch. Although he said his symptoms weren’t bad, the time off didn’t help his preparation for the season.
Although Walsh made the Angels Opening Day roster, Maddon said he didn’t look right.
“He came up the first time and was just a little uncomfortable,” Maddon said. “He was not himself. He was nervioso.”
Walsh admitted as much: “Absolutely. I think most people that are not experienced at this level are a little bit nervous, so yeah, but I’m pretty sure if I played in a beer league softball game I’d have some nerves.”
Walsh and his .000 average were shipped back down to Long Beach, with the Angels’ reserve squad, and there he and the hitting coaches began to seriously clean up his mechanics.
His quieter stance has led to more success, which has led to more playing time, which has led to more confidence, which has led to more success.
“It’s a big deal when you think you might be in the lineup, day in and day out,” Walsh said. “So I’ve been lucky to kind of get on a little roll.”
His roll, of course, has led to questions about his future. Since the Angels traded C.J. Cron before the 2018 season, the Angels haven’t had anyone else do well enough at first to outperform even a declining Albert Pujols.
Walsh is giving hints that maybe he could be the Angels next everyday first baseman. Pujols, 40, is signed through next year.
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Walsh, incidentally, said he still plans to work out this winter as a pitcher, after a spring training injury eliminated that part of his game this season.
If his new success at the plate is sustainable, though, the Angels may not need him to step on the mound any more.
Walsh said he’s just going to play as well as he can and let someone else decide where he fits.
“I really love this organization and want to be a part of it for a long time,” Walsh said. “I think there are some really outstanding players here. I want to be a part of the future in any way I can. And I think that role will kind of solve itself so I don’t really jump to conclusions too much.”
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