The Angels have brought the massively underrated 1B/RF prospect Jared Walsh to Spring Training. Walsh has displayed a dynamic power bat paired with stalwart defense at his natural position, first-base.
However, there is a quality to Walsh that hardly anyone outside of the LA Angels organization keyed in on throughout the 2018 season. Despite being a starting infielder/backup outfielder there is some serious pitching potential to Walsh. Is it possible the Angels will continue changing the landscape of the MLB by introducing the concept of blue-collar type two-way players to the game?
The Angels shocked the baseball world in 2018 by bringing the two-way star Shohei Ohtani to the MLB and letting him display his legendary two-way ability as a LH power-hitting DH and flame throwing RHP. There are some who wondered aloud whether this was simply a novelty, a once in a generation talent that could not be replicated by another athlete. There is truth to the idea that Ohtani’s once-in-a-generational talent would be difficult to replicate in another athlete, but at the same time I wouldn’t count him as a novelty.
The 25-year-old Angels prospect, Jared Walsh, has spent 4 seasons within the Angels developmental system and in 2018 we saw him put together a true breakthrough season. In 549 Plate Appearances, through Class A Advanced and Triple A MiLB, Jared Walsh put together a slash line of .277/.359/.536 with 29 HRs and 99 RBIs while also collecting 34 doubles alongside 86 runs scored. The offensive dynamics Jared Walsh brings as a left-handed hitter cannot be understated, in fact we’ve detailed his talents before and likewise saw him make the Halo Hangout Top 25 Angels Prospects at #7.
You can read those corresponding articles to get a clearer idea of his potential and skill-set, but to put it shortly Jared Walsh is not only the defensively gifted left-handed power bat the Angels need at 1B, he’s a potential All-Star who can change the landscape of the MLB with his two-way ability. Yes, you read that right, the power-hitting prospect no one is talking about can also provide value as a LHP thanks to the foresight of the Angels organization.
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As pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training there was a bit of buzz regarding a bullpen Walsh threw which saw him hit speeds of 94mph with his fastball. This pitching talent didn’t come from nowhere as 2018 saw him make 8 relief appearances and strike out 7 while maintaining a 1.59 ERA. His Triple A catcher, Joe Hudson, remarked that his curveball is a pitch that can definitely get Major League outs. It was no surprise to see the Angels invite Walsh to instructionals with the intent to work out his pitching ability after the 2018 season wrapped.
Through 2018 Walsh pitched in 8 appearances out of the bullpen with success despite not working out or training as a pitcher throughout the season, this being the clear factor that interested Angels GM Billy Eppler in attempting to extend the value of Walsh.
This is where things get interesting, because at this pace Jared Walsh has the potential to alter the philosophical landscape of the MLB. Just as the rest of baseball turned to the Astros and followed their innovative and trend-setting developmental programs it is very possible the Angels will be the next team to pave a new way for the rest of the MLB.
The fact is that Jared Walsh can show the rest of baseball that there is credence to the philosophy of extracting two-way value from all types of players, not just from pre-packaged two-way legends such as Ohtani.
If Jared Walsh can fulfill his potential as an All-Star hitter with talent for getting left-handed outs from the bullpen, he’s going to make 29 other organizations look within their own farm systems and evaluate any potential to extract similar value out of their prospects.
Teams won’t just look for All-Star caliber two-way potential, instead there will be an explosion in blue-collar type two-way players. It will be an overhaul in philosophies as organizations begin to expand the boundaries of the “utility player”.
Utility players will no longer just be blue-collar guys with the versatility to play multiple positions, there will be an expansion with the philosophy of utility players which will seek to extend their versatilities beyond fielding and into pitching as well.
For starters, it’s smart baseball and smart business when you can extract as much value from one player as possible. This is the biggest reason why it makes sense for utility players to expand into both fielding and pitching, from an organizational standpoint it allows more freedom in putting together dynamic, competitive teams without having to stretch both the dollar and the roster.
Given the direction that baseball is heading into with analytics, it’s simply a matter of time until teams start searching for new ways to produce outs. What better way than to start asking new questions?
That may sound redundant, though those are two completely different worlds of value as a position player pitching is a rare novelty mostly seen in mop-up situations. On the other hand, extracting semi-regular pitching value from a position player has the potential to be more than just novelty, it can be an entirely new philosophy for baseball to chase.
Just like the Astros changed the game with their focus on detailed analytics such as Spin Rates the Angels can pave the road for all of baseball to begin understanding the scope of two-way value. It’s not just for legends like Ohtani or potential All-Star prospects such as Jared Walsh; it can very well extend towards the blue-collar athlete, the utility player whose value comes from how versatile they are.
That being said, the nurturing of this new philosophy very well rests on how successful Jared Walsh can be in the Majors. He doesn’t have to be an All-Star first-baseman, all he has to do is show that he can offer value both in the batters box as well as on the mound.
The LA Angels will be going through a big-time youth revolution within the next 2 years, and what better way to stage a revolution than to change the game from the bottom-up?