Prospect Profile: Neil Walker

Once we get into the regular season, this page will be full of game recaps, photos, opinions on player progression, etc. Until then, though, there’s not a ton to talk about. So that we don’t lie dormant until April, I’ll attempt to put up a new profile of one of the Pirates’ top prospects every couple of days. It won’t be full of original material for the most part–after all, I haven’t seen a lot of these guys in person yet–but instead, I’ll do the legwork for you and bring together a mix of expert opinions in order to paint a picture of the future in Pittsburgh.
For this first profile, though, I do have a bit of a story. The year was 2004. I was a senior in high school. I’d quit playing baseball a few years previous in order to focus my attention year-round on wrestling (and because I couldn’t hit a curve ball), but I still paid attention to our varsity team as a few of my friends were on the squad.
In the middle of the season, one of the hottest players in the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League was going to be gracing our diamond with his presence. And one of my buddies was going to be pitching against him. Rumor had it that this kid might be getting drafted by the Pirates in the first round. Local boy to the hometown team–had the makings of a good story. And one of my friends was going to give up a bomb to him on our home field: What a tale for the grandkids.
Neil Walker must’ve been off his game that day, though, as Todd (a decent southpaw, but only a club player in college) forced him to ground out. As soon as Walker went to the Bucs with the 11th overall pick in the ’04 amateur draft, we’d know he’d be a bust.
Neil’s professional stats:

04 GCL 52 192 4 20 .271 .313 .427
  A- 8 32 0 7 .313 .343 .406
05 A 120 485 12 68 .301 .332 .452
  A+ 9 42 0 12 .262 .244 .357
06 A+ 72 264 3 35 .284 .345 .409
  AA 10 31 2 3 .161 .188 .355
Tot.   271 1046 21 145 .286 .324 .428

You can find a more comprehensive background of his numbers at his Baseball Cube profile.
Neil recently made the switch from catcher to third base in order to have a clearer path to the big leagues; general manager Dave Littlefield was worried that Ronny Paulino might limit Walker’s advancement. Dejan Kovacevic’s coverage of that transition is available at these Pittsburgh Post-Gazette links: 2/16 and 2/18.
Before that, though, Project Prospect ranked Neil in their “Top 10 Catchers Under 25” segment:

6. Neil Walker, AA, PIT (9/10/85): Perhaps the home town savior that the Pirates have been looking for ever since The Family unraveled, Walker, like [Jarrod] Saltalamacchia, hit a speed bump in 2006. The 20-year-old started the season in High-A, and hit just .284/.345/.409 in 264 at-bats. Still, the Pirates promoted him to Double-A in August, where he immediately came down with a staff infection and was shut down. Getting back on track, Walker hit .303/.319/.409 against advanced competition in the Arizona Fall League.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but Walker still finished higher than MLB-ready backstop Chris Ianetta, potential 2007 top draft choice Matt Wieters, heir to Jason Kendall’s throne in Oakland Kurt Suzuki, and Miguel Montero, a Diamondback who earned a cup of coffee in 2006.
Walker’s bat isn’t as unique at third base, but if he can make it through Altoona and Indianapolis while maintaining a decent average and displaying good power from the left side of the plate, the Pirates will make a spot in the lineup for him in 2008 or, more likely, 2009. Like Adam LaRoche, Walker could be a potent middle of the order power hitter. Unlike LaRoche, though, Neil still needs more polish. I hope to get a closer look at him on a trip to Altoona in April or May.
For more info on Walker, check out this thorough analysis of him available at First Inning. And be sure to check back at Sandlot Swashbucklers every so often for another prospect profile.

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Welcome to MiLB Pirates

Hello, all. I’m Cory Humes, the director of baseball for Most Valuable Network as well as a columnist for Pittsburgh Lumber Co., MVN’s major-league coverage of the Pirates organization. I’ll be joined in this space by Nancy and Nicolas; they’ll introduce themselves later on. As a quick intro, here’s a blogger profile I originally posted at Lumber Co. If you have any questions, feel free to ask…
I?m borrowing a concept from my days at MLBlogs. Over there, they call these things Spheroids. Nine questions and answers (a nice baseball number) that turn a blogger into more than just a name on a computer screen.
1. What are the best reasons that other baseball fans should visit your blog?

I?m more optimistic than Pat; less cynical than Nicolas; younger than Rowdy and Bones; more East Coast than Charlie; more black and gold than Carson and Corey; more grounded in reality than Jake; and venerable when compared to Matt and Alan, DJ, Dave and Matt. And I?m easier to take care of than The Parrot: No ?squawkings and droppings? here.
And come on, you?re not going to read a Red Sox blog, are you?
2. What was your favorite post?

This one, I think. It?s the first post from Pittsburgh Pirates Roundtable, an effort that I took part in starting and continue to coordinate. If you?re not familiar with us, you should be. Each Monday and Thursday our panel of bloggers releases a discussion focused around two Pirate-related questions. We?ve come a long way from our humble beginnings, and we?ll continue to improve as time goes on.
3. What is the most unique blogging experience you?ve ever had?
The voice of Summer in Pittsburgh, Lanny Frattare, mentioned me on a broadcast after I sent him the link to a post I wrote as a response to a prompt he gave to the viewing audience. Then again, there?s the e-mail I got from Cuba after I wrote about the Bucs? signing of Yoslan Herrera. That one was pretty strange, too. Gotta love Google.
4. Favorite blogs, including at least one at MVN:
I have to be like that annoying tag-along little brother who won?t leave you alone when you?re trying to act cool with your friends, but I can?t help myself from reading and commenting on Where Have You Gone, Andy Van Slyke?, another Pirates blog. Pat often sees the game differently than I do, and I like his insight.
I try to check Sportsfilter daily for my non-hardball news. I like the ESPN Insider blogs maintained by Peter Gammons, Buster Olney and Keith Law. And I?m a fan of Tony?s work at The Confluence, which is where I get my hockey fix.
On MVN? I find myself reading The Cub Reporter a lot. It?s good to hear the enemy?s point of view sometimes, and those guys do it right.
5. What would you be doing if you weren?t blogging?
There?s a chance that I?d be reading. I have a (growing) pile of baseball books to get through, including Red Smith on Baseball, Ball Four by Jim Bouton and Ten Rings by Yogi Berra. I have the terrible habit of getting three-quarters of the way through a book and not finishing it. I?ve done that with Moneyball, 3 Nights in August and Pete Rose?s autobiography. A quick recommendation for you aspiring journalists (or baseball fans, or newspaper readers): Full Swing by Ira Berkow was one that I read from cover to cover. That?s two thumbs up on my scale.
6. Where do you think the blogosphere is going?
It?s going to continue to boom. Is there any other option? Newspapers are so last century. As Evan Brunell wrote, blogging allows for a ?horizontal flow of information? that you can?t get reading The New York Times. People are more involved with their subjects and writing more than ever. I?m glad that I?ve jumped on board MVN for the ride.
7. Favorite team and why?
Uh, the Pirates. I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, and I still live about 25 minutes from downtown. I?ve never been anywhere else quite like the Steel City.
8. What is one thing most people don?t know about you?
I go to school at Greg Brown?s alma mater, Point Park University. I?ve transferred twice (from Pitt to Washington & Jefferson to PPU), three times if you count not going to NYU after backing out of an early-decision acceptance. I?ve also changed majors twice (from business to math to journalism). I get A?s. And I went to elementary school with Bill Cowher?s oldest daughter.
9. Happiness is?
The left field reserved bleachers on a businessman?s Thursday afternoon. Preferably it?d be May, but I won?t be picky. Primanti?s, Yuengling and good friends. The game would go about 12 or 13 innings, and the Bucs would win in walk-off fashion. The perfect day.

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