Zach Walters stepped up with the bases empty in the bottom of the 9th Wednesday afternoon. The Cleveland Indians and Arizona Diamondbacks were knotted up 2-2. Walters was appearing in only his third game for the Tribe since being traded from the Washington Nationals for shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera on July 31.
Walters looked composed stepping up to the dish. The kid loves to hit. Playing in right field for only the third time in his career, the athletic infielder quipped he would play wherever Terry Francona asks him to play as long as he gets to hit.
As a mid-90s fastball raced towards the dish, Walters unleashed his powerful swing, lashing out at the ball and promptly launching it just over the right field wall. The kid raised an arm as he circled the bases and was pelted with water when he reached home, his new teammates pouncing on him in celebration. It was a true welcome to Cleveland moment for Walters.
It may also be a glimpse into the future, as Walters figures to be an integral piece of the Indians’ lineup for years to come. Since Travis Hafner faded due to injury late in his career, the Tribe has largely lacked a middle-of-the-order power bat, the likes of Matt Laporta, Mark Reynolds, and Nick Swisher unable to fill the void.
The Tribe wanted Walters so badly, they agreed to pay all $10 million of Asdrubal Cabrera’s salary in the trade. For a team with a payroll just north of $80 million, it illustrates just how desperate the Indians are for a bat with pop.
Walters, 24, was a 9th round pick of the Diamondbacks in 2009 before being traded to the Nationals in 2011. This season, Walters hit .300 with a .965 OPS for the Nats AAA affiliate. He reported straight to AAA Columbus once traded to the Tribe and hit 3 homers in 3 games before being called up this week when Swisher and David Murphy were placed on the DL. In his last three minor league seasons, Walters has hit a combined 56 homers, including 29 last season. If Walters’ minor league production was extrapolated over a 162 game major league season, he would have hit more than 35 home runs each of the past three years.
If Walters’ power transfers to the big leagues, when combined with Jesus Aguilar, Francisco Lindor, and the Indians’ young core of Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Yan Gomes, the Tribe could be contenders for years.
Welcome to Cleveland Zach, here’s to many walkoffs to come.