The Cardinals drafted Colin Walsh out of Stanford in the 13th round of 2009. Since then, Walsh has played every position besides center-field, catcher, and pitcher in his time spread across three levels. In 2010 for Johnson City and Batavia, Walsh spent all of his time at 2B and 3B but that changed when he arrived in Quad Cities. Walsh found himself in the OF for 26 games in 2011, and then he spent 36 games at DH in 2012 inviting questions about his ability to stick at any position at all. Naturally, then, the Cardinals invoked the spirit of Tony La Russa by deciding to have the poor gloves-man rededicate himself to becoming a second baseman.
Walsh turned a corner offensively in 2012 and now has the chance to become a legitimate prospect, especially if he can play an acceptable second base. Check out his 3 seasons playing for Quad Cities:
In 2010 and 2011, Walsh's best quality was his ability to walk exactly as often as he struck out, but his power was lacking as evidenced by a slugging percentage below .400. Then 2012 happened. Walsh raised his slugging by a staggering 150 points and mashed 16 home runs despite missing several weeks to an injury (out between 7/11 and 8/09).
In an interview with Derrick Goold, Walsh explained how he implemented a new swing-from-the-heels approach just prior to the 2012 season out of frustration in spring training:
"I was just trying to go up there and swing as hard as I can. I got a first-pitch fastball and lined it into right field. I tried it again the next day. I went two for three with a double. I though, 'Maybe there's something to this.'"
After hitting his 8th and 9th HRs of the season in a game in May, Walsh told the Quad-City Times how he had been intentionally swinging from his heels:
"The whole year, I've been trying to swing harder and hit balls harder to both right and left field and that seems to be working."
And then in June, John Sickels attended a Quad Cities River Bandits game and had this to say about Walsh:
"I thought his bat speed from the left side was very good, and he controlled the strike zone well. There is no buzz about this guy at all, but I liked his swing and the numbers are quite good this year."
The skeptics will point to Walsh's age (22 during season) and inflated BABIP as reasons to doubt him. Honestly, that's a pretty compelling argument as a .343 BABIP will be difficult to sustain going forward, especially when it's compared to batted ball data remarkably similar to his previous two seasons when Walsh's BABIP was well below .300 (.250 BABIP in 2010 & .277 BABIP in 2011).
In order to justify those type of results on balls in play, you'd expect him to be lacing line drives all over the field, but that wasn't exactly the case. Walsh hit 16.5% line drives in 2012 compared to 16.9% in 2011 and 16.1% for his career, so no change there. Walsh did hit approximately 4% fewer ground balls that corresponded with a 4% increase in fly balls, but that usually means fewer hits, not more. Walsh's most drastic change in performance was turning a higher percentage of fly balls into home runs this year. In 2011, 7% of his fly balls became home runs, but 15.8% left the yard in 2012. The league average has been right around 8% the past two years, so do we believe that Walsh will be able to muscle fly balls beyond the outfield walls at an accelerated rate? Or does this all point to an inevitable regression?
The truth usually lies somewhere in the middle. I'm not ready to peg Walsh as a .300 hitter, but the 2012 sample size (425 PA) in Quad Cities was actually larger than 2010 and 2011 combined (396 PA), so we shouldn't completely dismiss his breakout season. And then there's the stigma associated with Stanford, a school believed to downplay the importance of power in its hitting philosophy. So maybe this is a prospect who's simply shed some bad habits. That's the hope. I'm encouraged that Walsh maintained his ability to walk (almost) as often as he strikes out, meaning that the extra effort in his swing did not cause him to make less contact.
All that said, Walsh wasn't the same after the injury in July when a pitch struck him on the right forearm. He went without a HR for the rest of the season and his slugging percentage plummeted by 50 points (span of 90 PA). Walsh was added to the Surprise Saguaros as a Taxi Squad player (plays on Wednesdays and Saturdays only) this off-season, and he's been okay thus far. He has 6 hits in 20 ABs, 3 of which have been doubles, to go along with 4 walks and 7 strikeouts for a .300/.417/.450 slash line.
Keeping in mind the AFL's accommodating environment for hitters and Walsh's part-time status as a player, I'm not sure we'll learn much about him this winter but I am eager to see where he starts next season in terms of level (probably Springfield) and position (perhaps second base). Walsh spent time in the Cardinals' instructional league to work on his defense at the keystone, and there's been at least one report that he could take over as the every day second baseman for Springfield since Wong will be promoted.
An all-bat corner outfielder is great and all, but Walsh would obviously enhance his prospect status by making a successful transition to the middle infield. Second base has been a drag on the parent club's offense for years, and between Wong, Garcia, and perhaps Walsh now, that might soon change... at least within the next couple of years. No disrespect to Warlock Kozma or Corporal Descalso.