Former USD Toreros shortshop Zach Walters was part of one of the major deals at the Major League Baseball Trade Deadline being traded from the Washington Nationals to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for fellow shortshop Asdrubal Cabrera shortly before the deadline on Thursday. Walters has seen time with the Nationals and is one of the better former Toreros to come out of USD in recent years. After a solid but unassuming end to his collegiate career and start to his professional career, Walters is developing into a solid prospect and could end up being a great under the radar pickup for the rebuilding Indians.
Walters was a solid contributor for the Toreros. As the full-time starting shortstop during his sophomore and junior seasons in 2009 and 2010, Walters hit a combined .324 and scored 58 runs. In his junior season he helped the Toreros win the West Coast Conference Championship and reach the NCAA Tournament. His effort caught the attention of scouts and the Arizona Diamondbacks took him in the 9th round of the 2010 MLB Draft. It was a banner year for the Toreros as Walters was one of ten Toreros drafted, a list that included current Oakland Athletics pitcher A.J. Griffin.
Walters got off to a fast start in the minor leagues, and by 2011 he was a legitimate top prospect being named a Midwest League All-Star with the A South Bend Silverhawks after hitting an impressive .316 with 42 RBI and 50 runs scored in 66 first half games. Walters then had his first experience with trade deadline deals as he was moved to the Nationals for veteran pitcher Jason Marquis in late July of 2011. Walters continued his steady rise through the minors and reached the AAA level by late 2012. Walters spent most of 2013 with the AAA Syracuse Chiefs where he led the International League in home runs, extra base hits, and total bases.
The performance was enough to get him a call up to the Nationals in September 2013. Walters debuted in the majors with a splash recording a pinch hit single in his first MLB at-bat that broke up a no-hitter by Marlins ace Jose Fernandez. He got his first start for the Nationals in the final game of the 2013 season going 1-4 with an RBI triple and a run while playing shortstop.
In 2014 Walters has seen time with the Nationals, but he has spent most of the year remaining in AAA with the Syracuse Chiefs. He has continued to flash very impressive hitting and power numbers as he was hitting .300 with 15 home runs for the Chiefs at the time of the trade. Walters can play a variety of positions including shortstop, second base, third base, and left field. He has been ranked among the top 20 prospects in the Nationals organization for the past three years by Baseball America including being ranked 14th this past winter before the start of the 2014 season.
Walters looked to be developing into the kind of versatile player who could find a home with the Nationals, but injuries dictated making a move. With the recent injury to Ryan Zimmerman, the Nationals needed an experienced infielder for the playoff push. While Walters could have fit the bill filling in on the entire left side of the infield, the Nationals apparently desired a more experienced player and got one in Asdrbual Cabrera. He should help fill the hole left by Zimmerman and keep the Nationals in the hunt for a playoff spot and division title as they attempt to stay ahead of the Atlanta Braves.
Cleveland meanwhile was in rebuilding mode at the deadline moving Cabrera and starting pitcher Justin Masterson. Walters should be a good pickup at a small price for the Indians. He has shown versatility and talent and could be helping the Indians as early as later this season. He will likely be heading to AAA Columbus for now, but his ability to play multiple positions and his developing power make him an appealing prospect to get for a player (Cabrera) who was probably not part of the long-term rebuilding plan in Cleveland. Walters should continue to get chances to catch on with the Indians and become one of an select group of former USD players to reach and stay in the Major Leagues. By moving to a team without playoff aspirations that is focused on long-term rebuilding, Walters should receive more opportunities to prove himself. The move could be a key turning point in his developing career if he ends up finding success at the ML level.