Zach Walters hit a total of 25 home runs over his first 322 games and 1,319 plate appearances as a professional in minor league action. Washington acquired the Arizona Diamondbacks' 2010 9th Round pick in a July 2011 trade that sent right-hander Jason Marquis to the D-Backs. At Triple-A Syracuse in the Nationals' system this season, the 23-going-on-24-year-old, 6'2'', 220-pound shortstop hit 32 doubles and crushed 29 home runs in 135 games and 521 plate appearances over which he posted a .253/.286/.517 line. He also struck out 134 times, drew just 20 walks and made 31 errors at short.
So what does he have to improve on, he was asked yesterday in an interview with reporters at NatsFest in the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, to take the next step after getting a taste of life in the majors late last season when he was a September call-up for the Nationals?
"I think all of it," Walters said. "I was told to hit for power last year. Davey [Johnson] came up to me and said, 'You're a farm guy? Friggin' hit the ball a quarter mile.' I'm like, 'All right, I guess.' You know. I know guys always questioned my defense. That's never been a problem with me. They told me to hit for power this year, I hit for power. Last year they told me to hit for average, I hit for average. It's just what they want. This year I think what they want is kind of all-encompassing. To be a good teammate. Show your maturity. Run good. Do all that stuff. I think they're just looking for me to take that next step, maturity-wise."
The Nationals' infielder learned important lessons during his month in the majors, the most important thing being that he wants to get back there any way he can. But with a group of infielders headed to Spring Training with the Nats that includes Ian Desmond, Anthony Rendon, Danny Espinosa and veterans Jamey Carroll and Mike Fontenot, he said he's not quite sure where he fits in the Nationals' plans.
"Honestly, I wish I knew," Walters admitted, adding that he was just happy that people recognized him when he came to NatsFest and went to a team dinner last night. "You know how the Nationals are," he said. "They'll sign guys that they want to win and they want it now. Picking up Carroll and [Nate] McLouth, guys like that, that's great for them. For me, personally, if they want me wherever, I'll be there. I'm giving the same speech that, 'I'm going to try my best, work hard, blah, blah, blah,' and if I'm up with the team that's great. If I'm not that's great for me. I'm not worried about that."
His time up in September did teach him some valuable lessons. "Yeah, that's if [Jayson] Werth asks you to do something, you make sure you do that and then more," Walters joked. "Being up... little kid. Loved it. Smiling. Watching games. When they called my name, I was like, 'Oh, I have to play baseball again.' It was just a great experience. We've got captains in [Adam] LaRoche and Werth that make sure you know where you're at. It was fun."
Everything about the experience was fun and he wants to get back to it as soon as he can. "The food tastes better," Walters said. "Air is crisper. Everything. It's the life. You guys know it. It's unbelievable. You're getting paid to play a kid's game. You're around guys that love doing what you do and I'm not going to complain about travel. I would rather be on a plane than 40 guys on a smelly bus."
"My biggest thing is, whatever they want me to do to win," Walters said when asked what he was focusing on for the upcoming season. "They could honestly be like, 'Hey, we want you to get on base and bunt and steal bases.' I'll be like, 'I'll be a 6'2'', 220 guy that bunts all the time.' I'll do that. That would be fine. If they want me to run, I'll run. If they want me to play the outfield, I'll play the outfield. I'm not worried about that. It's really honestly whatever they want. I don't have much of a say anyway and I'm not going to.
"If they want me to, I'll shine cleats if they want me to shine cleats."
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