Zach Walters said his power surge in 2013, when he hit 29 home runs in 521 plate appearances after hitting 25 total in 1,319 PAs before last season, was a result of concentrating on hitting for power after now-former Washington Nationals' manager Davey Johnson suggested swinging away. "I was told to hit for power last year," Walters told reporters this winter. "Davey [Johnson] came up to me and said, 'You're a farm guy? Friggin' hit the ball a quarter mile.' I'm like, 'Alright, I guess.'"
Walters, 24, tied for the Triple-A International League lead in home runs last season. He's in camp with the Nationals this spring, and the switch-hitting infielder is once again making a strong impression.
A 2 for 2 day on Sunday in the Nats' win over the Marlins left Walters 5 for 5 so far this spring with two doubles and a triple in the first three games. Though he made 31 errors in 104 games at short at Triple-A last season, he's made some diving plays and strong throws early in Grapefruit League action.
New Nationals' Manager Matt Williams has noticed.
"He got a little impatient in his last at bat today with that guy standing out there," Williams said. "But ended up getting a pitch to hit. He's doing really well. Doing everything that he's asked to do and swinging it from both sides of the plate and playing great defense. You can't ask for anything more."
Wiliams was asked this weekend if the Nationals gave Walters any advice on what he should be concentrating on at the plate this time around.
"I think his stroke is his stroke," Williams said. "It's very difficult to change a tiger's stripes. He has power from both sides of the plate. I think that the maturation process is such that as he goes within his career, he'll learn that home runs come and you can't force them. You can't stand up there and say, 'I'm a power guy and this is what I do,' and get away from your game, whatever it is. So, I would like to see him eventually become a .300 hitter with power. That's what I'd like to see."
Walters posted a .253/.286/.517 line in the 135 games he played and 521 plate appearances he made at Triple-A last season, walking just 20 times and piling up 134 Ks.
The new manager in the majors in the Nationals' organization offered the following advice in talking about how Walters can get his average up.
"What that means to me," Williams said, "is that in the situations where he can turn on the baseball, or is ahead in the count, or he knows what's coming or whatever it is, he can go ahead and let her fly, but there are also times when he's going to just have to drive a run in or he can easy hit a single up the middle. That will make his average go up, actually his RBIs go up and he'll maintain the same power. That's a maturation process, that's learning yourself and learning what you can and can't do. So, I see him a little bit of both. I think he'll become a much better hitter if he can do both of those things, of course. But he's got big power, both sides, we saw yesterday."
Walters homered for the first time this spring in his second at bat this afternoon:
#Nats' SS Zach Walters keeps on hitting, taking #Yankees' RHP Shawn Kelley 408+ feet to deep center field for a solo blast. 4-1 NY...— federalbaseball (@federalbaseball) March 3, 2014