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Sluggers' talks help Walters emerge as power threat

Mentored by Miggy, Canseco, new Tribe hitter has four homers in nine games @MLBastian

MINNEAPOLIS -- Zach Walters was hitting in the batting cage at Detroit's spring facility two springs ago, working on his swing during a rain delay. Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera wandered over, watched a few swings and then asked the young hitter a question.

"He asked me what kind of hitter I was," Walters recalled on Thursday afternoon at Target Field. "He said, 'I think with your swing, you could hit for power.' He, out of the blue for like 40 minutes, just sat there and talked and hit with me.'"

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Walters -- a prospect for the Nationals during his chance meeting with Cabrera -- has flashed that power potential since being acquired by the Indians in the July 31 trade that sent shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera to Washington. In Cleveland's 4-1 loss to the Twins, Walters did so again, launching his fourth home run in his first nine games with the Indians.

Right now, raw is the best way to describe Walters' talent in the batter's box.

The 24-year-old switch-hitter has hit just .212 in his brief tenure with the Tribe, but four of his seven hits have been home runs. In fact, over the course of his short Major League career, which includes stints with the Nationals in each of the past two years, Walters has posted a .525 slugging percentage, while batting just .225 in 80 at-bats.

Walters' seven home runs account for 46.7 percent of his hit total (15) at the big league level this season.

"It's in there," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "I think he's kind of come as advertised. It's just nice to see it in person. When you see a kid hit the ball at Triple-A, which is good, but then you see him here and you can see why he's hitting the ball out of the ballpark. He's taking a lot of good swings."

In terms of Walters' development, Francona said the Indians are willing to trade growing pains for growth as a hitter over the season's final six weeks. Cleveland believes he can be a big part of its future plans, but the club needs to play him on a regular basis to get a better grasp of what it might have in Walters.

Walters is thrilled to have that chance.

"It's faith," Walters said. "They've given me a little bit of faith and I'm trying to give them something back in return."

Walters, who appeared in 23 of his 32 games with Washington this season as a pinch-hitter, said it has also helped to be in the American League.

"I don't feel like I have to go up there for one at-bat in the National League," he said, "and hit a ball 500 feet or get four hits in one at-bat."

Walters -- a middle infielder by trade, and part-time outfielder for Cleveland by circumstance -- has not minded helping out as a designated hitter of late. He quipped that the four gloves sitting in his equipment bag were just for show.

"As long as I get to swing a baseball bat, I don't care where I play," he said. "I don't even know what those [gloves] are. What are those things?"

The power numbers were not always there for Walters.

Across the 2010-12 seasons, Walters had 25 home runs and a .438 slugging percentage in 1,207 Minor League at-bats (322 games). Over the past two years, however, he has launched 46 homers and posted a .554 slugging percentage in 755 at-bats (201 games).

Walters said he has improved his power through swing tweaks and altering his approach in light of conversations with various hitters over the years. Walters has one surprising mentor in former Major League slugger Jose Canseco. They both live in Las Vegas, and during recent offseasons, Walters has played on Canseco's softball team.

"A long time ago," Walters said with a smirk. "Lots of winters ago."

Walters said his discussions with Canseco and Cabrera have helped him fine-tune his approach in the batter's box.

"He's a big dude. He talks path to the ball," Walters said of Canseco. "[Cabrera] talked about an approach and about being able to throw your hands at the plate, use your weight, get the most out of that."

So far, so good.

But, what about mixing in a single every once in a while?

"I don't even know what that means," Walters joked.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.

Cleveland Indians, Zach Walters