Something clicked in Clearwater for Mitch Walding at the end of 2015.
A fifth round draft pick out of St. Mary's High School (CA) four years prior, Walding had compiled 13 home runs and a .232 average through his first four professional seasons. In the final weeks of his first year in Clearwater, a slight mechanical adjustment began the turnaround that would put the third baseman on the map as a 2016 Florida State League All-Star and Home Run Derby champion.
Now six years into his professional career, Walding became a minor league free agent this past offseason but quickly elected to resign with the team that drafted him. It's a decision that has paid off in the early going as, three months after signing, Walding received his first non-roster invitation to Major League Spring Training.
"I knew the Phillies the best, and it's a great opportunity in this system," Walding says.
"It's kind of hard to imagine being anywhere else. I love the staff and the coordinators and all the guys that I've been here with since I was young, since I was 18. It's truly like a family here for me, so that's another big reason that I wanted to come back."
In his first taste of big league camp, Walding is taking advantage of each opportunity to make an impression, frequently appearing in the latter innings at third base and - for the first time in his professional career - at first base. The 25-year-old played in eight of the Phillies first 12 games this spring, going 3-for-7 with a walk and a pair of runs scored.
"It's a really cool experience, you know it's a lot different than minor league camp," Walding says.
"Everyone's a professional, everyone kind of knows exactly what they're doing when it comes to their daily routines. You expect a lot out of yourself and everyone around you."
Walding upped expectations with a powerful 2016 campaign in Double-A Reading, in which he amassed a career-high 25 home runs to lead the Fightin Phils and rank fourth in the Eastern League.
After a tough start through the first two months, Walding caught fire as the calendar flipped to June.
He opened that month with a pair of home runs and four RBIs against the Portland Seadogs, then crushed two more round-trippers the following day.
Walding went on to hit an MiLB-high 13 home runs in June to go along with a .337 average in 25 games, earning Phillies Minor League Hitter of the Month and Eastern League Player of the Month honors.
"I think the first couple weeks of the season I struggled and went to try to fix some things, and when I tried to fix it, it just kind of made it worse and worse," Walding says. "I was trying to find something, instead of just being athletic in the box and being comfortable with who I am. Once I just let it go and said, 'Hey, this is what I need to do,' it just kind of took off.
"At the end of the day it was just being myself. Getting in the box, and being comfortable."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.