Every day you'll find a look back at the 2014 season for one of the Indians or their key prospects, as we sort out what happened and what it means for the franchise going forward.
- Position: Utility
- Age: 25
- Acquired: Trade with Washington for Asdrubal Cabrera (7/31/2014)
Walters spent most of the last two years playing for the Nationals' Triple-A affiliate in Syracuse. In 60 games there during the first few months of this season, he posted the best numbers of his career, batting .300/.358/.608, with an improved walk rate and very strong power. With Washington looking for an infielder to helo them in their playoff push, and the Indians looking to move a piece they'd soon be losing anyway, the Indians sent Asdrubal Cabrera out and got Walters in return. He then played in 7 games for Columbus before being called up to Cleveland.
In Walters' second game with the Tribe he hit a walk-off home run against Arizona:
Two days later he homered again, and the following week he homered in three consecutive games. In his first two and a half weeks with the Indians, Walters hit six long balls, an average of one for every eight at bats, which is some Barry Bonds-level homering.
Walters' play dropped off after that though. Already sporting a very high strikeout rate (29.4% in those 13 games) and a low batting average (.208), Walters went just 3 for his next 36, with 16 strikeouts. In September he confessed to a rib injury that had been bothering him for a couple weeks, but which he'd kept secret for fear of losing playing time. He talked about feeling worn out after a full season that came on the heels of a parasite he contracted in Venezuela which contributed to him playing most of this season 15-20 pounds lighter than he'd have liked. Walters hardly played during the final three and a half weeks of the season, starting only 3 games and getting only 12 plate appearances.
As I already noted, even when he was hitting bombs, Walters was carrying a very high strikeout rate. He also didn't walk much, leaving him with an ugly .255 OBP even for the stretch before he seems to have been bothered by the ribcage injury. His power was so high during that time that he was a very valuable hitter, but with above average (but not otherworldly) power, that kind of OBP is a deal breaker. His low BABIP (.188) was certainly a big factor in that low number, and he's due for some positive regression, but he's also probably going to have to adjust his approach a bit if he's going to have any longterm success.
On the final day of the regualr season Walters hit the Tribe's final home run of the season in the 2nd inning, and then had the team's final extra-base hit of the year with a 6th-inning double. A nice ending to an interesting first stint with the Indians.
2014 grade: B-
Walters has spent a fair amount of time at 2B, 3B, SS, and in the outfield over the last couple years, so there's a lot of different ways he could potentially help the Tribe next season. With today's news that the Indians intend to pick up Mike Aviles' option for next season, the super-sub role seems to be spoken for. If Walters plays really well in spring training, he could potentially win the final spot on the Opening Day roster, but it seems more likely to me that he'll be sent to Columbus, to await an injury, trade, or demotion that opens up a spot for him. His strikeout rate has always been high, but never so much as last year. Hopefully he finds a way to drop that back down a bit, because he's got enough other tools to become a worthwhile MLB player.