Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 6: Zach Walters
Bob Toth | On 29, Mar 2016
As Did The Tribe Win Last Night helps fans count down the days until the Indians retake the field in an official Major League game, we look back at some of the players who wore the Cleveland jersey with pride.
Countdown to Opening Day – 6 days
A rough 2015 has carried into 2016 for the current wearer* of the number six for the Indians, Zach Walters. The utility man, looked at solely in an outfield capacity at the team’s spring complex in Goodyear, Arizona this year, was one of the earlier camp casualties for the club.
Walters is set to start his third season as a member of the Indians organization after the team acquired him as the return for longtime Tribe shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera at the trade deadline in 2014. While he showed a flare for the dramatic and slugged seven home runs in a brief 30-game trial with the club that season, he was not able to parlay the power display into an extended run on the Indians roster.
The versatile switch-hitter was drafted in 2010 by the Arizona Diamondbacks with a ninth round selection. He joined the Washington Nationals just over a year later, when he was dealt on July 30, 2011, in exchange for veteran starting pitcher Jason Marquis. He hit .266 with a dozen homers across three levels for the club in 2012 before an offensive explosion in 2013 at Triple-A Syracuse when the 23-year-old hit 29 bombs and drove in 77 in 134 games and earned a trip to the big league stage with the Nationals for eight games of action.
He had a pair of singles and a triple in nine plate appearances.
The power numbers were again healthy for the young slugger as he bounced around in 2014. He started the season at Triple-A, but after nine games with the Chiefs, was called up to the parent club to help out beginning in mid-April. After 27 games with the Nationals, the minor league success was not translating, as he was hitting just .182 (6-for-33) with three homers and four RBI in 27 games, working more often than not as a pinch-hitter or late inning replacement. He was sent back to Syracuse and hit .301 with 15 homers and 45 RBI over the next two months, earning him a recall to Washington for a week before he was dealt west to Cleveland.
The Indians initially sent him to Columbus, where he hit .387 with a pair of homers and eight RBI in seven games, leading to a trip to Cleveland for the final month and a half of the season. Again, the minor league numbers failed to equal MLB success as he hit .170 in a new league with 32 strikeouts in 94 plate appearances over 30 games. He showed some enticing power during that span, but a disconcerting number of strikeouts and an unhealthy batting average and on-base percentage to boot.
Last season did not play out as planned, as he was shuttled back and forth between Columbus and Cleveland several times with mediocre results at each destination after an oblique strain that sidelined him in March. He had just one hit in 17 at bats with eight strikeouts during a look with the Indians in May. He had hits in each of his first three games back in June, but struck out in four of the ten total plate appearances and was again back in Columbus. In a final look in one game in August, he struck out in all three plate appearances against the New York Yankees.
Back in the minors for good to wrap up his season in mid-August, he hit in eight of his first nine back with the Clippers and later in each of his last seven to end Columbus’ regular season.
He hit .249 with a .310 OBP in Columbus with 21 doubles, three triples, ten homers, and 48 RBI over 91 games. He hit just .133 with four singles, three RBI, and 15 strikeouts in 30 plate appearances in 12 games of work with the Indians.
Things went from bad to worse in the minor league playoffs and eliminated any possibility of a mid-September call up for Walters when he was hurt in the third game of the International League finals and missed the rest of the postseason as his teammates won the Governor’s Cup. In early October, he had surgery to repair the injury, a torn labrum in his left shoulder, that appeared as though it would allow him back just in time for spring baseball activities.
The bad presumably peaked in December, when he was involved in a Las Vegas car accident that left him in a neck brace with multiple migraines and a wound over his left eye that required 26 stitches despite wearing his seat belt. It also left his brand new, midnight blue Corvette Stingray totaled.
His feelings about 2015 were summed up well in a December 31st tweet on his Twitter account: “Only one good thing happened all 2015…Bring on 2016 !!” The good thing, presumably, was his marriage to wife, Colby.
He came to camp last month with an interest in competing in the outfield, noting the team’s strong infield and their need for outfielders at the beginning of the year. He had bounced around in his limited action with the Indians, appearing at second, short, and third base as well as both corner outfield positions in a year and a half with the club. He had done similar in Columbus last season, splitting his time between left field and all four non-catching infield positions.
Instead of competing deep into camp with the others in the competition, Walters was among the first wave of camp cuts on March 14. He hit .071 in ten games of action, getting a single and driving in two runs in 14 at bats while striking out six times.
While he likely hoped for a better result in Goodyear this spring with the Indians, he is slated to return to Columbus to start the year. He still has the opportunity to put himself in the best position possible to be one of the first men up if and when injuries hinder the Indians over the course of the season. He has shown the flexibility and versatility to be an asset to a lineup, but has to bridge the gap between a strong Triple-A contributor and a viable Major League Baseball role player.
Photo: Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
*editor’s note: Shortly after this post published Tuesday, it was confirmed that Marlon Byrd will wear 6 for the Indians this season*