Pirates call up Neil Walker and Virgil Vasquez

The Pirates have called up third baseman Neil Walker, and pitcher Virgil Vasquez with Major League rosters expanding today. The 25-Man Roster has been updated, along with the 40-man roster/payroll projection.

Walker recently complained that there was a bias towards Neal Huntington acquired players, and that he was being held back due to being a Dave Littlefield prospect. He backed those comments up by hitting for a .339 average in the month of August, with four homers in 109 at-bats. In fact, Walker is batting .291 with seven homers in 172 at-bats since the International League All-Star break.

The downside to Walker is his on-base percentage. Even with the success after the break, Walker had a .319 on-base percentage, thanks to just eight walks in that time span. This season he has just 26 walks in 390 plate appearances. That’s a seven percent walk rate, which aside from his 2007 season in Altoona (11 percent) is his career high. To put that in perspective, the average Major League walk rate this season is nine percent.

That doesn’t mean players can’t be successful with a low walk rate. Freddy Sanchez has a career five percent walk rate in the majors, but his success is due to an extremely solid contact rate. In his career, Sanchez has struck out in 11 percent of his plate appearances. The Major League average this year is 18 percent. Walker has been ahead of the curve there, with a 15 percent strikeout rate.

I’m not saying Walker can become the next Freddy Sanchez. Sanchez is more of the exception than the rule. What I am saying is that, with what we’ve seen so far, Walker is in no way guaranteed success. This is a player who has a career .248 average at AAA, even with the strong performance recently. He also has a career on-base percentage of .291 at AAA.

Walker is only 23 years old, turning 24 in a few weeks. While he was drafted out of high school, and has spent six seasons in the minors, he’s still rather young. For that reason I don’t want to write him off. I still maintain that his former top prospect status looked much better as a catcher. His offensive potential looks much better behind the plate than it does at third base. So even though we can’t write him off, I think his upside is an average offensive third baseman, with solid defense.

For those of you who want Walker to replace Andy LaRoche, just consider that for a second. LaRoche isn’t exactly tearing it up at the plate this year. His batting average is .245, although he does have a .324 on-base percentage, thanks to a nine percent walk rate, which is average in the Majors this season. The power isn’t encouraging, with a home run every 61 at-bats. The strong part for LaRoche has been his defense. His 3.5 UZR this year ranks 9th amongst qualified third basemen.

It’s not impossible to improve over Andy LaRoche this season, but I don’t think Walker is going to do it. Walker’s defense is good, but it would be hard to top what LaRoche is doing. Walker also has a career .248 average at AAA, so it’s hard to imagine that he’d do much better than the .245 average LaRoche has put up. As for power, Walker has displayed some at AAA, but that doesn’t guarantee major league success, as we’ve seen with LaRoche. To take the comparison further, let’s compare their time at AAA, using major league equivalents to balance out the park factors.

Walker: .211/.251/.352, 40.78 AB/HR
LaRoche: .242/.330/.407, 25.71 AB/HR

Ironically the .245/.324/.367 line by LaRoche is pretty close to what we’ve seen this year. Major League equivalents aren’t an exact science though, as Andrew McCutchen would have a .245/.311/.348 line with a 72.73 AB/HR ratio based on his time at AAA (and we know he’s been much better than that in the majors). MLE’s are a good tool to compare players, and this comparison between Walker and LaRoche shows that LaRoche projects to be the better hitter in every way.

If anything, the presence of Neil Walker should benefit the third base situation. LaRoche hasn’t had much competition this year, with Walker struggling at AAA, Pedro Alvarez too far off and struggling the first half of the year, and no one else on the Major League roster presenting a challenge to take over. Walker should push LaRoche to possibly play up to expectations, and at the same time, this shot by Walker could be the motivation he needs to carry his recent AAA success over to the major league level.

Enjoy this story? Pirates Prospects will be switching to a subscription site on 4/13, so that we can continue bringing you the best Pirates coverage there is. For a very small monthly price, you can continue getting articles like this, along with coverage from every minor league city. Get more information here, and subscribe today!

Share This Article

Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

Walker and Vasquez Called Up; More Promotions

Next Story »

Curve and Hillcats Lose in Extras; Sanchez Homers

Latest Analysis

  • Nick Kingham f

    Improving His Two-Seam Fastball will Make Nick Kingham a More Effective Pitcher

    15 hours ago

    With Jameson Taillon returning from Tommy John surgery, and unlikely to make an impact at the Major League level early in the year, the top prospect to ...

    Read More
  • Arquimedes Caminero 3

    The Roster Situations That Could Impact the Makeup of the Pirates Bullpen

    3 days ago

    There are less than two weeks remaining in Spring Training, and the one area where the Pittsburgh Pirates had actual position battles is heating up. There were ...

    Read More
  • Jordan Luplow

    How the Pirates are Trying to Stay Ahead of the Curve With the New Draft Rules

    4 days ago

    The 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement brought a lot of changes to Major League Baseball. The biggest change for the Pittsburgh Pirates came in the draft. From 2008-2011, ...

    Read More
  • Alen Hanson

    The Key For Alen Hanson to Help the Pirates in the Majors This Year

    4 days ago

    When the Pittsburgh Pirates moved Alen Hanson to second base last year, part of the plan was to get him to the majors faster by putting him at ...

    Read More
  • Tyler Glasnow 2

    What the Stats Don’t Tell You About Tyler Glasnow

    6 days ago

    The stat line for Tyler Glasnow’s start at Pirate City yesterday looked great: 3 IP, 0 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K. The lone run ...

    Read More
  • JaCoby Jones Josh Bell

    JaCoby Jones Did Fine in the Move to Shortstop, But Needs to Cut Down on Strikeouts

    1 week ago

    The Pittsburgh Pirates drafted JaCoby Jones as an outfielder in the third round of the 2013 draft, then surprised everyone the following year when they moved him ...

    Read More
  • Cody Dickson is a lefty with the upside of a middle of the rotation starter. (Photo Credit: Mark Olson)

    The Mental Adjustment that Led to Cody Dickson’s Dominant 2014 Second Half

    1 week ago

    Trusting his stuff and not trying to do too much — that has been the key for left-handed pitcher Cody Dickson so far in his professional baseball ...

    Read More
  • Third Base Mathisen Luplow Joe

    Who’s on Third? In the Pirates’ Farm System, It Could Be Anyone

    1 week ago

    If you have ever played third base in your life — professional, college, high school, slow pitch softball — then the Pittsburgh Pirates might be contacting you ...

    Read More
  • Jason Creasy

    Another Pitcher to Watch From the Pirates’ 2011 Draft

    2 weeks ago

    The 2011 draft is shaping up to be a great class for the Pittsburgh Pirates. They picked first overall that year, so naturally you’d expect good things ...

    Read More
  • Peacock Nevarez

    Will One of These Pirates Minor League Pitchers Be the Next John Holdzkom?

    2 weeks ago

    By now you probably know that John Holdzkom rose from independent ball last year and made it to the majors. It was one of the best stories in ...

    Read More
  • Browse More Articles