He hasn't seen much action yet, just four games so far (in which he's gone 2-for-2) but Washington Nationals infield prospect Zach Walters is one of the more interesting September promotions, at least if you like players who have some enigma and uncertainty attached to them. Walters has an intriguing mixture of strengths and weaknesses in his game, so let's take a look at him as today's Prospect of the Day.
Walters played college baseball at the University of San Diego. After an excellent sophomore year in 2009, he was expected to be an early pick in '10, but a thumb injury ruined his spring, knocking him down to the ninth round where he was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Signed for just $97,500, he was healthy by July and played great in pro ball, hitting .302/.338/.440 with 14 steals for Yakima in the Northwest League. He followed up with a .302/.377/.485 season with nine homers and 12 steals in 97 games for Low-A South Bend in the first part of 2011.
Traded to the Nationals for Jason Marquis in July '11, he remained productive after switching over to High-A Potomac, hitting .293/.336/.371 in 30 games. He began at Potomac in 2012, batting .269/.304/.399 in 54 games, which wasn't great but was enough to get him promoted to Double-A Harrisburg. There, he hit .293/.326/.518 (note the power surge) in 43 games, then finished the campaign with a less inspiring .214/.260/.286 mark in 29 games in Triple-A.
After reportedly impressing Nationals officials this past spring, he went back to Syracuse and hit .253/.286/.517 this year, with 32 doubles, 29 homers, 20 walks, and 134 strikeouts in 487 at-bats.
Walters is a 6-2, 220 pound switch-hitter, born September 5, 1989. He was listed at 195 when he signed. The size gain seems to have cost him some mobility and speed, but increased his power. He is mainly a pull hitter for power from the left side of the plate, but from the right side he'll show more opposite field drive, at times anyway. He showed a decent batting eye earlier in his career, but he's been more aggressive at higher levels, also serving to boost his power when he gets a hittable pitch, but hampering his on-base abilities.
On defense, his best tool is a very strong throwing arm, more than capable of handling shortstop and third base. His range has declined along with his speed, and while he played mostly shortstop at Syracuse, he made 31 errors and reports indicate his range is stretched at the position.
Walters played very well at second base during a brief trial in 2011, and he has the tools to handle third though he needs more experience there. There has been talk of using him in left and right field to enhance his utility value, but he's played just one game in the outfield thus far. Although he is no longer a big threat to steal, Walters is still reasonably athletic. I don't think outfield use is unrealistic if he's given time to adapt.
So what do we have here?
Walters has a lot of power, but with his current ultra-aggressive approach, he's not likely to hit for a high average or post a strong on-base percentage. Although he probably doesn't have the range to be a regular shortstop, he has a strong arm and enough athleticism to play several positions and project defensive versatility. He turned 24 last week and it is unclear how he fits into Washington's plans. Walters could be trade bait or a useful bench asset going forward, with at least a small chance to get beyond that if he can find an approach that will work against advanced pitching.