I have really been slacking on these previews, and opening day is suddenly 48 hours away. Time to get to it. Today, we will look at Neil Walker.
The biggest question about Walker is his defense. Due to struggles behind the plate, he was moved to third base full-time last spring. Playing a new position for the first time, he struggled a bit defensively. However, despite a high error total, most reports were positive considering the situation. With more experience, Walker should have no problem playing third at the Major League level.
There has been much less concern about Walker’s bat. Coming off wrist surgery, his power dropped in 2006. It returned last season, and should only improve in the future. He has only 34 home runs in 1542 professional at-bats, but his double totals have been high. Walker just turned 22 last September, giving him plenty of time to fill out and increase his strength. It will not be long before some of those doubles begin clearing the fence. Combine that with improved patience the past two years, and Walker is well on his way to being a successful Major League hitter. As soon as he shows that he can handle third base, he will be in Pittsburgh.
This will be Jose Bautista’s final chance to prove he is capable of being an everyday player. He has some potential, with a patient approach and flashes of power. But he did not improve much last season, and is now 27. Unless he progresses significantly this year, the Pirates can assume his ability is basically maxed out. Most see him as a utility player, and now Walker will be knocking on the door from Indianapolis. Depending on how things work out the first few months of the season, Walker could get his chance by the All-Star break.