As a 39th-round pick out of Georgia in 2015, Jared Walsh was not a bonus baby or the most highly touted rookie in his own dugout. That honor clearly belonged to Jo Adell, the 10th overall pick in 2017.
But the 27-year-old first baseman who signed for $3,000 as a college senior could garner American League Rookie of the Year votes after a torrid September.
Walsh hit .293/.324/.646 wit nine home runs and 26 RBIs in 32 games. From Sept. 8-16, he homered in six of seven games.
After forcing his way into a platoon with aging first baseman Albert Pujols in early September, the lefthanded-hitting Walsh emerged as a viable replacement for Pujols, whose 10-year contract expires after the 2021 season.
“I’m telling you, it’s not a fluke,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said after Walsh hit a 450-foot grand slam to center field to break open an 8-5 win against the Rangers on Sept. 21.
“He’s that good. His hands are that strong, and the way he starts the bat . . . he hit (36 homers) in Triple-A last year, so he knows how to do that. When he sees his pitch, he’s not missing.”
Walsh, who has also dabbled with pitching, opened the season with the Angels but after going 0-for-10 spent most of August at the alternate training site. The Angels recalled him on Aug. 28.
Walsh replaced his high leg kick with a toe tap. Instead of wiggling his bat behind his head and dropping his hands nearly to his waist as he loaded his swing, Walsh adopted a more quiet pre-swing setup, his hands rarely straying too far from his left shoulder.
The tinkering created a smoother path to the ball and allowed Walsh to square up balls more consistently.
“Last year, I had a lot going on,” Walsh said. “It worked sometimes, but it wasn’t consistent enough. There were some timing issues that I wanted to address. As hitters, we build habits, good and bad. For me, it was trying to be more direct to the ball, a little more efficient.”