Pirates call up former top pick Neil Walker
The 90-mile stretch of Interstate 74 that links Indianapolis
with Cincinnati has fast become Neil Walker’s favorite stretch of
He’s driven it twice in the last two seasons, both times with
the major leagues as his final destination.
The Pittsburgh Pirates called up the former first-round draft
pick on Tuesday, rewarding him for his solid start at Triple-A
Indianapolis. Pittsburgh put first baseman Steve Pearce on the
15-day disabled list with a sprained right ankle, suffered on
The 24-year-old Walker was Pittsburgh’s top pick in June 2004 –
the 11th overall – as a catcher. He moved to third base in 2007 and
got his first promotion last September, driving over from
Indianapolis to join the Pirates in Cincinnati.
Did it again on Tuesday.
“It’s two hours and I think my cell phone went out several
times on the way, which was actually a good thing – watch the road
a little bit as oppose to talking on the phone the entire time,”
Walker said. “I’ve got that drive down.”
His next job is to stay in the majors for more than a month.
The switch-hitter batted .194 in 17 games (eight starts) last
September, striking out 11 times in 36 at-bats. With Pedro Alvarez
– a No. 2 pick in 2008 – in line to take over at third base
eventually, Walker decided to diversify during spring training and
started learning other positions.
He has played first base, second base and outfield, giving him
more chances to get into the lineup. He also picked it up at the
plate, batting .321 with six homers and 26 RBIs in 43 games. He led
the International League with 18 doubles and was second with 26
“I think that’s just part of the maturity process,” Walker
said. “I think it just took time for me to kind of come into my
own in terms of knowing what I do well, knowing what I don’t do
well, knowing how to take advantage of what I do well and going at
it with 100 percent confidence.”
With third baseman Andy LaRoche bothered by a sore back, Walker
had his spot in the lineup Tuesday against the Reds, batting
“We’ll get him in as much as possible,” manager John Russell
said. “He gives us flexibility. That’s one of the reasons we moved
him around in spring training. We don’t want to lose sight of
second base – he’ll play some there, too. He was doing some very
good things in Triple-A.”
Learning to play second base provided was Walker’s biggest
adjustment. He has played mostly first base and third base.
“There’s so much that goes into playing second base,” he said.
“That’s been the largest learning curve.”
Walker could be at the forefront of a wave of new players.
Alvarez, outfielder Jose Tabata and right-hander Brad Lincoln are
expected to join him in the majors in the next few months, a group
of top prospects entrusted with breaking the franchise’s long cycle
“It’s fun,” Walker said. “To watch those guys play on a daily
basis and know what special players those guys are – that makes
this special, too. Those three guys are not far behind. They’re
going to be up here pretty soon because they’re doing a tremendous
job at Triple-A.”