After the longest break from baseball he can remember, Jonathan Walsh is ready to start his second season in the minors. Where he ends up — whether it be San Bernardino, Calif., or Burlington, Iowa — depends on how he performs this month in minor league spring training.
“If I follow the [projected] path, I’ll end up at Burlington (Midwest League, a-ball),” Walsh said last week via telephone. “But if I show up and play well then maybe I can start in the Cal League, which is high-a.”
“What’s most important is not where I start but where I finish. My goal is to end up at high-a.”
It’s a slow climb from rookie ball to the major leagues, but Walsh — who played three years at Texas before being drafted by the Los Angeles Angels in the 11th round of the 2012 MLB Draft — got off to a good start last summer, hitting .300 in 230 at-bats with the Orem Owlz, with 45 RBIs, nine homers and a dead-even walk-to-strikeout ratio.
After Walsh’s season ended Sept. 6, he went to instructional league until Oct. 10, where he met most of the Angels’s prospects and was versed on the “Angel way.” Until the Texas Alumni Game on Feb. 2, Walsh hadn’t seen a competitive pitch. He went 1-for-4 with a run scored in the No. 18 jersey the Angels sent him, size XXX-L.
“It’s been pretty nice — I won’t lie,” Walsh said of his vacation from the game. “But I’m ready to get back to baseball.”
Here’s a look at the situations other notable former Longhorns find themselves in this spring:
Brandon Belt, 1B, San Francisco Giants
Now that he's established himself as a regular with the World Series champion Giants, Belt no longer has to look over his shoulder, dreading his next optioning to Triple-A. Instead, Belt will look forward. He does have much to improve on. He's a career .259 hitter and thus far has been unable to get enough lift on the ball (groundballs on 50.7 percent of his BAP). Given better job security at first base, Belt will likely better resemble the player who hit .343 in the minors.
Huston Street, RP, San Diego Padres
An All-Star last season, Street re-upped with the Padres for two more years at $14 million after trade talks linking him to the Mets fell through. Given the tepid state of the closing pitcher these days — only two players to make the top-10 saves list in 2012 also appeared on the 2011 list — that might be too much to pay, but Street has been a consistent commodity since 2005. Last season he recorded a 1.85 ERA and saved 23 games in 24 opportunities. As San Diego gets better, more opportunities will come.
Drew Stubbs, RF, Cleveland Indians
A trade sent Stubbs from Cincinnati to Cleveland, which now boasts one of the best outfields in baseball. But where does Stubbs fit in? For now, he's probably the fourth outfielder. Cleveland signed Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher in the offseason and holdover Michael Brantley hit .288 in 2012. New manager Terry Francona has in the past done a good job of rotating outfielders for freshness and playing time, and Stubbs will also be helped by Swisher's ability to slide to first base or the designated hitter spot. Perhaps fewer plate appearances will lend to better discipline for Stubbs. He's finished sixth, first and fifth in strikeouts among National League players the past three seasons.
Chance Ruffin, RP, Seattle Mariners
Relief pitchers who walk nine in 18 innings of work, or who record a 1.5 WHIP, do not hang around in the majors. It's a short sample size, though, and the bet is Ruffin, a former first-round pick of the Tigers, clamps down.
Taylor Jungmann, SP, Milwaukee Brewers
It'll probably be another year until big No. 26 — last seen wearing a lineman's number at the Alumni Game — gets called up to the majors. Jungmann went 11-6 in 26 starts in advanced-a ball, but his 3.53 ERA and 1.34 WHIP weren't indicative of his abilities. As a junior at Texas in 2011, Jungmann's WHIP (walks+hits per inning) was .83.
Hoby Milner, P, Philadelphia Phillies
The elastic-armed Milner had quite the showing in his first season in the minors. He started 13 of 14 games — and compiled a 2.50 ERA — but projects as a reliever in the future.
Brandon Loy, SS, Detroit Tigers
Perhaps the best shortstop to ever set foot on the 40 Acres, Loy's coming ascension will surely be because of his glove work. He hit a paltry .240 with Class-A West Michigan, but he was also a late-bloomer — at the plate at least — with the Longhorns.