PHOENIX — Colin Walsh epitomizes this new era of the Milwaukee Brewers.
The 26-year-old not only fits the “young and controllable talent” mantra new general manager David Stearns espouses whenever asked about the rebuilding Brewers’ plan for the future, Walsh has a tremendous skill that makes him an attractive commodity.
He gets on base. A lot.
And that is what earned Walsh a spot on the roster for Opening Day, which is Monday at Miller Park against the San Francisco Giants and could be his major league debut. The switch-hitting infielder leads the team with 11 walks, which gives him an on-base percentage of .406 — a nice .131 addition to his .275 batting average this spring, his first in a major league camp, which concludes today.
“At least having good at-bats and putting in quality ABs was the most important thing,” Walsh said of earning the final infield spot over Hernan Perez, who will begin the season at Class AAA Colorado Springs.
Walsh is a cheap gamble for the Brewers. He was acquired in December’s Rule 5 draft — along with reliever Zack Jones, who will begin the year on the disabled list — and must remain in the majors all season or be offered back to the Oakland A’s, his previous team.
At Class AA Midland in the A’s system last season, Walsh hit .302 with 13 homers, 49 RBIs and 17 stolen bases. He also led all of minor league baseball with 124 walks, for a .447 OBP. A 13th-round draft choice in 2010 out of Stanford by the St. Louis Cardinals, his lowest OBP for a season has been .360 in 2010, when he had his worst professional batting average of .239 with Class A Quad Cities.
So why would a guy with such a talent be available in the Rule 5 draft? His defense is considered below average. Walsh has made 71 errors in six seasons, playing primarily second base, some third base and also seeing time in the outfield.
Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell said Walsh will play second and third, backing up Scooter Gennett and Aaron Hill, respectively. Yadiel Rivera is the primary backup infielder.
“We’re going to have to work with (Walsh) defensively and third base is new to him for sure,” Counsell said. “He has not played a lot of third base. Especially the later part of spring, we’ve exposed him a lot to third base. It’s really been a lot of work in the mornings and just put him in games and log innings there and experience there because he’s going to play third base here.”
Walsh made three errors while playing second in a two-inning span Tuesday, the day he found out he made the roster.
“I think last year I made nine errors, so it’s not like I continually boot a ton of balls,” Walsh said. “Three hard(-hit) balls that most of the time I make the play. Those three randomly all were getting missed. It’s not like I was nervous. If you think about it, I should have had a weight lifted off my shoulders.”
Counsell said Wash still has time to improve defensively.
“Especially these players that are 25, 26 years old, there’s a long way toward getting better,” Counsell said. “That’s not going to stop for a long time.”
In the minors, Walsh had 58 starts at third, compared to 213 at second. He also has 67 in left field.
“When I first started this spring — I played over there earlier in my career — it was definitely newer to me,” he said. “Second base is something I’ve played (regularly). I’ve been playing a lot of third as the spring has been ending.
“The more I play over there, the last two or three games, I’ve felt comfortable. It wasn’t like every pitch I had to think about, ‘What am I doing?’ ‘What am I focusing on?’ I got into the rhythm of the game at third base.”
His offense hasn’t had its usual pace this spring. Walsh said he was disappointed with his power (no homers) and batting average (.275), but he didn’t think it had anything to do with facing better pitching.
“When you go from Double-A to the big leagues, yeah, some guys have better stuff, but just in terms of how hard guys are throwing or how good their breaking ball is, there’s not too much of a difference, it’s just how consistent pitchers can be,” Walsh said.
When informed Tuesday of making the roster by Counsell, Walsh could barely contain his excitement. When the rest of the world found out, his phone blew up. He spent a good part of the time that night chatting with family and friends about making a big league roster. His parents and brother will be at Miller Park on Monday to see his possible major league debut.
“Unbelievably exciting,” Walsh said of finding out his dream was coming true.
And what is he looking forward to most?
“Just that first at-bat,” Walsh said. “It’s going to be a culmination of a lot of years of work.”