The next Ohtani? Walsh to get two-way shot

'Why not give it a try?' Minor Leaguer to hit, pitch out of relief

February 14th, 2019

ANAHEIM -- On the Angels' Spring Training roster sheet listing positions, there's a special section for two-way players, and it features not just but also non-roster invitee Jared Walsh.

After Ohtani's nearly unprecedented two-way success during his American League Rookie of the Year campaign last year, more clubs are looking into the possibility of having players who can both pitch and play a position. Walsh fits that bill, as he has been a power-hitting first baseman and outfielder in the Minors, but he's made 10 pitching appearances over the past three seasons as well. The Angels are experimenting with him doing both this spring and this upcoming season.

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Walsh, 25, batted a combined .277/.359/.536 with 29 homers and 99 RBIs across three levels last year, finishing at Triple-A Salt Lake, and also made eight appearances as a left-handed reliever, posting a 1.59 ERA with seven strikeouts and two walks in 5 2/3 innings.

"We feel like he can do both at the Major League level, especially with what he did last year offensively," Angels manager Brad Ausmus said. "It's going to be a balance, and a little easier because it's a relief role, especially in Spring Training because it's controlled."

Walsh threw his first official bullpen session of the spring Thursday and said it went well, as he's been focusing on improving his curveball. He hasn't pitched full-time since he was at the University of Georgia, so it's a new experience for him. But he did get a chance to work on his pitching during the Instructional League after last season, as the Angels told him of their plan for 2019 back in September.

"It's exciting, but I'm trying to keep it simple," Walsh said. "If I overthink it, things get too complicated. Just hit and pitch and have fun. I'm on the pitchers' arm care program, so I'll be doing that every day, but I'll also be talking to the hitting coaches about hitting and all that stuff. Whatever the schedule is, I just figure it out that day."

Walsh said he's not worried about an injury from being overworked, as he's set to pitch in relief and isn't working as a starter like Ohtani was last year before he underwent Tommy John surgery that will keep him from pitching until at least 2020. The training staff will be cautious with Walsh, considering the unique circumstances, but there were instances last season where he played first and pitched in the same game.

Other clubs are trying similar things with two-way players, such as the Rays drafting first baseman/left-hander Brendan McKay with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2017 Draft, as well as the Rangers experimenting with and the Tigers doing the same with former Angel .

"I don't think I'm any sort of a trailblazer," Walsh said. "If you can get value out of a player who can do a little bit of both, then why not give it a try?"

Ausmus said the Angels have some sort of a blueprint because of Ohtani's success last year, but noted that Walsh will pitch only in relief and admitted that last year was a bit of a trial and error situation as it came to Ohtani.

"It gives us an idea, but we're still learning about Shohei, quite frankly," Ausmus said. "He did it last year for the majority of the year, but it's still an ongoing learning process. There is no doubt about that. I do think Shohei's ability to play both sides, you're going to see it more. We've seen it in Tampa Bay. It's taking versatility to the ultimate level."

Angels tidbits

• Left-handers and also threw bullpen sessions Thursday, which was the second day of workouts for pitchers and catchers. Ausmus wouldn't say which of the two will be his Opening Day starter this early in spring.

• Shortstop and left fielder are among the position players who arrived early ahead of the report date for position players Sunday.

• Ohtani told the Japanese media that he has been swinging at roughly 75-80 percent intensity. His next step remains hitting off a tee, but Ausmus said he's not sure when that will happen.