Jul 10, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Neil Walker (18) celebrates in the dugout after scoring a run against the St. Louis Cardinals during the first inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
#10 – Neil Walker
The competition for the number 10 spot in this countdown was fierce. I was confident that the other nine belonged on this list, but there were numerous other competitors for the final spot. Josh Harrison recovered well from a poor start to the season to become the leadoff man that the Pirates needed, batting .279 with nine steals and a 0.7 WAR. However, his struggles defensively at third and his recent injury played a part in keeping him off this list. Jung Ho Kang also was considered, as he’s taken over for Harrison at third well and has been the best bat off the bench for the Pirates this season. He has a 1.6 WAR so far this year and could become a top 10 player for the Pirates by season’s end. Vance Worley has also pitched well out of the bullpen, but he hasn’t accumulated enough action in close-game situations to put himself on this list.
Neil Walker used a recent surge heading into the all-star break to steal this spot. He was also struggling for a while this year and had injury issues early on, but used a big series against the Detroit Tigers to move himself closer to the offensive force that he was last year. He’s now batting .278/.341/.414 with seven home runs and 34 RBIs entering the break, and has been worth 1.7 wins above replacement despite missing some game action this year. He’s not abysmal against lefties in 2015, batting .240 with three doubles and three RBIs in 50 at-bats against them. He’s also compiled a .321 average in the last seven days and a .370 average in July. His 10 RBIs in July already surpasses his RBI total in any other month this year. He’ll need to play average baseball against lefties and continue to stay hot if the Pirates’ offense is to improve moving forward.
Next: An unappreciated arm