The first-year LA Angels manager promised to give at-bats by merit. Has Jared Walsh earned playing time over future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols?
It was in his in his introductory press conference when LA Angels Brad Ausmus was asked one of the most burning questions for both media and Angels fans: “How often will Albert Pujols play?”
Pujols, the ever-confident legend he is, had predicted he would play 190 games, including spring training, in a bounce back age 39 season after knee surgery over the previous summer.
Ausmus was firm in his answer, saying, “If he’s playing well, he’s going to play, simple as that.” This differed from the previous regime of Mike Scioscia, in which the aging slugger, a sure bet for Cooperstown, almost always started, save for days off due to rest or injury. Even during a 2018 that saw him bat .245 with 19 home runs, a .700 OPS and 0.5 WAR, Pujols had 498 plate appearances, limited primarily by injury, not performance.
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Ausmus’s statement, followed by the signing of Justin Bour, a left- handed first baseman with a smooth glove and decent power, showed the Angels were perhaps serious about getting performance from the position, regardless of prestige, past accomplishments, or salary.
However, in 2019, Justin Bour did not slug his way into playing every day. Once Shohei Ohtani returned from the injured list to be the Angel’s primary DH, Bour’s .163 average, .584 OPS, and a series of baffling mental errors on the basepaths failed to unseat Pujols. In May, Bour found himself optioned to AAA Salt Lake City, where he will likely remain, as he was replaced by Jared Walsh.
Walsh, the former 39th round pick of the 2015 draft, has made a name for himself as the latest two-way player to take the field for the Angels.
But Walsh has shown to be more than a gimmick, making his way to the majors on an impressive .302/.398/.604 line in the PCL with 10 home runs. He’s shown to be a patient bat who makes contact, fitting the new philosophy of the Angels at the plate: put the ball in play and avoid strikeouts.
In a small sample size, Walsh has batted .350, though he hasn’t shown much power yet, with only one extra base hit, a double, but he’s shown the ability to get on base and make things happen. He’s already begun to earn starts over Pujols against right-handed pitching, something which seemed unheard of even a few months ago.
Walsh is not and may never be a star, but he’s a solid option who’s getting a chance to produce. If he continues to do so, he may continue to take at-bats away from Albert Pujols, who at age 39, could become a platoon player in the twilight of one of the greatest career’s in the history of the game.