Neil Walker fascinates me with his athletic abilities. The thought of a healthy Neil Walker in 2014 is exciting if you are a fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Maybe it’s because the options when Walker isn’t in the Pirates lineup are so damn scary at the moment.
Last year at the All Star break when Walker was getting healthy, we started looking at age comparable players for the 28-year old Walker.
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The name Bret Boone kept coming up. It’s pretty insane what Boone did as he got into his thirties, but just ignore his age 28 season please.
It’s also interesting just how well Walker has performed while learning a position he never played regularly until late in his time at AAA Indianapolis. If you recall, he was playing all over the diamond, even some first base. But when the Pirates were forced to give Walk a shot at second base, the team hasn’t looked back. A great deal of his time has been spent making improvements at the second base position. We like his defense now. But the thing that’s next for Walker is a breakout offensive season.
It’s not hard to imagine an offensive outburst coming either. The offense in 2013 was not Walker-esque. The hot-and-cold of it all was difficult to watch, but those seven homers in September (six in the final nine games) made the postseason push extra special for Pittsburghs’ own. Everyone knows about the 0-for-the-NLDS, the regular season .251/.339/.418 triple slash and career low runs driven in, but those career high 16 dingers is what sparks some interest for us.
Of course for every Bret Boone comp, there is a Brian Roberts comp, or even the Brandon Phillips comp. But enough about the comparative negative talk. Well, ok, the hitting right-handed topic is something else everyone loves to concentrate on, but it’s been talked about at length. We always wonder if that nasty hand laceration impacted Walker from the right side in 2013. It certainly didn’t help.
The numbers that interest us about the Pittsburgh Kid are the .333 wOBA and 114 wRC+ which put him in second baseman top ten company. The groundballs to second base dropped–hell, the groundballs as a whole dropped. But with the increase in fly balls, the BABIP also fell to a career low .274 in 2013.
Walker has always said he has power to the alleys. With more fly balls turning into homeruns as he enters his prime, watching 20 plus homers leave the yard for the Pittsburgh Kid is something we can foresee. The other reasons we can see Walker busting out in 2014 is his improving approach at the plate. He was always an aggressive hitter, now he’s becoming smarter at the plate with a career best walk rate and also reducing his strikeout percentage to a career low in 2013.
So in 2014, expect more home runs from Walker and hopefully extension talks finally get underway as well or the $3.3 million dollar raise Walker received this winter may pale to what he could get next winter with a breakout year.