Spring Training Begins

Pitchers and catchers officially reported today, and we already have some updates from this morning.

-The official Pirates Twitter account reports that Akinori Iwamura has arrived at Pirate City.

-Rob Biertempfel reports that Jose Tabata didn’t have any visa issues, and is already in camp.

-Biertempfel also reported that Neil Walker caught Zach Duke’s quick session this morning.  Biertempfel mentioned in his post at the Trib’s Bucco Blog that Walker isn’t moving back behind the plate.  He provided this quote from Walker:

“Just exploring my options,” Walker told me a few minutes ago by phone from Bradenton, Fla. “I’m trying to add value to myself and knock some of the rust off a little bit. I figured if there’s going to be a time to do it, it’d be now.”

The key thing I took from that is the “I’m trying to add value to myself” part.  The best way Walker can do this is by improving on his hitting.  Walker is a career .248/.291/.428 hitter in 925 at-bats at the AAA level over the last three seasons.  Last year he hit for a .264/.311/.480 line at the AAA level, which doesn’t really add inspiration that he can hit as a starter in the majors.

At this point it’s hard to see Walker having a future with the Pirates outside of a super utility player.  He can play third base, and it’s assumed that he can play other positions, such as all three outfield spots, due to his athleticism.  If you add in the ability to serve as the emergency catcher, his value takes a big boost as a utility player.

Even if Walker improves his hitting, Pedro Alvarez is the future third baseman in Pittsburgh.  Assuming Garrett Jones and Jose Tabata take over at first base and right field, respectively, there won’t be a need to move Alvarez away from third.  Tony Sanchez is the future at the catching position, and Ryan Doumit will hold down the fort until then.  That leaves very few options for Walker, and that’s making the big assumption that he improves his hitting to the level of a starter.

Walker working on his defense almost seems like acceptance that he’s a future utility player.  Keeping his catching skills sharp certainly does add value to Walker, which would accomplish his goal.  Considering the makeup of the Pirates’ bench (not many spots available, and the one or two spots that are available will likely go to guys who are out of options), Walker doesn’t really have a chance to make the Pirates out of Spring Training.  I wouldn’t be surprised at all if another team with a need for a utility player comes calling this season, wanting to take a chance on Walker.

Walker has two options remaining, so the Pirates could keep him through the 2010 and 2011 seasons before being forced to add him to the active roster in 2012.  Therefore, nothing would be imminent on Walker, but the Pirates haven’t really shown much of a commitment to him, which makes me think they won’t give him two more years on the 40-man roster.

-In other notes, the Best Pittsburgh Sports Blogs tournament is in round two.  Voting ends tonight at 7:00.  As far as Pirates blogs, Raise the Jolly Roger and Bucs Trade Winds are facing off, and Bucs Dugout, Mondesi’s House, WHYGAVS, and Pittsburgh Lumber Company all have individual matchups.  Black Shoe Diaries, who eliminated this site in round one, is going up against Behind the Steel Curtain.  Go vote for the Pirates blogs, and if you want some revenge, vote for Behind the Steel Curtain.

-I’ve completed the AAA section of the BUCCO Fans player pages.  I’ve now got the 40-man roster, the AAA section, and all of my top 50 prospects.  I’m hoping to finish the AA section either tonight or tomorrow.

-The college baseball season begins on Friday.  I’ve got my trackers for Bryce Harper, Anthony Ranaudo, Christian Colon, and Drew Pomeranz up.  I expect Ranaudo and Pomeranz to pitch Friday.  Harper is the only one who has played so far.

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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 AccuScore.com, 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.

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