Angels pitchers and catchers are the only ones straggling in so far at the team’s spring training complex in Tempe, Arizona when the club held their first official workouts.
In order to manage the complexities of the ongoing Covid pandemic, players are working out on the four minor-league fields at the spring complex. Testing — for coronavirus — as well as the usual spring rituals of fitness and readiness, are the orders of the day.
Position players don’t report to Tempe until Monday. So it’s interesting to see who is in camp right now and who is not.
The Angels’ 60-man roster, for example, lists two players as “two-way players”: Shohei Ohtani, and Jared Walsh.
Walsh, 26, emerged in the fall as a breakout hitting threat in the shortened 2020 season at first base, batting .293 with 9 homers and 26 RBI in just 32 games, getting red-hot in September to remember.
With an OPS of .971, it would be easy to imagine the lefty-swinging Walsh getting the lion’s share of at-bats at first in 2021 in Albert Pujols’ final season before heading for Cooperstown.
But Walsh, who pitched five MLB innings for the Angels in 2019 with a 1.80 ERA, isn’t reporting to camp until the rest of the position players do.
“We don’t have any plans for him to pitch right now,” manager Joe Maddon told reporters Thursday about Walsh. “You saw what he did in the batter’s box, so that’s our emphasis.”
On the other hand, former first-round pick Taylor Ward is in camp with the team — as a catcher, which, strangely, is what he was drafted as in professional baseball out of Fresno State.
Two years ago, the Angels moved Ward away from the mental toll of the catcher position, and shifted him to third base — and his batting seemed to improve. Ward became a jack-of-all-trades, and continued to show offensive improvement when he wasn’t deployed defensively behind the dish.
Well … all things come around.
Now 27, Ward finally looked like a first-round force with the bat in 2020. Playing exclusively outfield in 2020, Ward batted .277 with a career-high .716 OPS, and flashed a powerful throwing arm from right field that runners wouldn’t want to challenge.
But a Swiss Army knife like Ward who can also catch is a valuable commodity, and Maddon knows this. If his batting stroke stays the same when he re-dons the tools of ignorance, Ward would be of real value as a third or emergency catcher.
He hasn’t caught in a professional game since 2017, but Ward could help in a pinch. He’s early in camp, working out with catching instructor Jose Molina.
Said Maddon, a former minor-league catcher: “He didn’t look like a novice back there. He’s caught a lot in the past, and it adds to his value, I think.”
As for Ohtani, the Angels’ star two-way player, the plan remains the same: Be aggressive in his approach first as a pitcher and the hitting should come naturally.
“Shohei can be one of the greatest players of his generation, and I genuinely mean that,” Maddon said. “So let’s do it.”
The position player battles in Tempe begin in earnest next week.