Zach Walters was 166 games into his professional career after Arizona drafted him out of the University of San Diego in the ninth round of the 2010 Draft when the Washington Nationals acquired him from the Diamondbacks in a July 2011 trade that sent veteran right-hander Jason Marquis to the D-Backs.
"Zach Walters [is a] switch-hitting shortstop that we had seen as an amateur in the college ranks that we really liked," Nats general manager Mike Rizzo explained in a radio interview that summer.
"He's putting up great numbers in Class-A ball in his first full season as a pro. We like the fact that it gives us much more depth and a chance to get an everyday impact middle infielder that can switch hit. High on base percentage guy that's a good steady defender and gives us a chance to increase our depth, replenish our minor league system and to build for the future."
Walters started his first full season in the Nationals' system at High-A Potomac, but moved up to Double and then Triple-A, putting up a combined .266/.302/.418 line with 23 doubles and 12 HRs in 126 games and 484 plate appearances. The next spring, Walters was invited to major league Spring Training, where he impressed former Nationals manager Davey Johnson.
"I really liked Zach," Johnson said, "He reminds me a lot of where [Ian] Desmond was at a couple, two or three years ago. I like his upside. He's got tremendous ability and he's learning who he is, and knows what he needs to do. I think this spring was good for him." Johnson offered Walters some advice before he began his second season in the organization.
"I was told to hit for power last year," Walters told reporters this past winter, looking back on a breakout 2013 campaign in which he put up a .253/.286/.517 line at Triple-A Syracuse with 32 doubles and an International League-leading 29 home runs.
"Davey came up to me and said, 'You're a farm guy? Friggin' hit the ball a quarter mile.'" Walters recalled. "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."
This past spring, Walters impressed his new manager, Matt Williams, who liked what he saw from the 24-year-old infielder. Williams was asked if he offered any advice on what Walters should be concentrating on at the plate.
"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 played eight games in the majors in 2013 and 32 with Washington this season, but most of his at bats took place at Triple-A Syracuse where he apparently took the Nats' first-year manager's advice literally and put up a .300/.358/.608 line with 18 doubles and 15 home runs in 60 games and 261 plate appearances before he was dealt to the Cleveland Indians yesterday.
"He's a guy with tools, he runs well, he throws well, he plays the middle of the diamond, could also fill in some outfield and he's got power from both sides of the plate," Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Grant Paulsen last night.
"He's come a long way the last couple years in his approach at the plate and has been working hard on not swinging and missing so much and staying inside of the strike zone. A quality young man who we'll miss."
Cleveland GM Chris Antonetti was excited about the return for 28-year-old, two-time All-Star Asdrubal Cabrera, pointing to Walters' power as one of his strengths.
"That's certainly one of his defining attributes -- his power -- especially for a middle infielder," Antonetti told MLB.com's Jordan Bastian.
"He's a guy that hit 29 home runs in Triple-A last year and is off to another strong performance this year at Triple-A. That's certainly a big part of his skillset, in addition to his versatility."
Walters is going to start at Triple-A in the Indians' system. He won't likely remain there for long.