With the Pittsburgh Kid making some comments about rather retiring than accepting a minor league assignment, could a reunion with the Pittsburgh Pirates be in the near future?
The Pittsburgh Pirates are no strangers to news in the past couple of days. Although nothing is confirmed, the stars seem to be lining up for a potential reunion between former fan favorite Neil Walker and the Pirates. In a recent interview with The Athletic, the utility man stated the following:
"I’m not going to concede to the notion of retiring as a 34-year-old who is in good shapeBut I’m not going to play in Triple A"
(please note: these are two separate quotes)
Walker latched on with the Phillies on a minor league deal during the off-season. Clearly, he was not going to see any regular time with the Phillies infield being set with Jean Segura and Didi Gregorious up the middle, Rhys Hoskins taking the reigns at first base, and former top 30 prospect Scott Kingery getting regular reps at the hot corner.
Competition for the final spot is very stiff. Currently, Walker is in camp battling with Logan Forsythe, Phil Gosselin, Ronald Torreyes, and another former Pirate favorite, Josh Harrison for the final spot. Walker is losing this battle. The switch hitter only has four hits in 18 at bats, and a K/BB ratio of six strikeouts to one walk, as opposed to Forsythe’s seven hits, including a pair of home runs and two doubles, in 16 at bats, to go with five walks and just two strikeouts. Torreyes is also outperforming Walker with six hits (two doubles) in 18 at bats, with one walk and three strikeouts
The last time Walker was with the Pirates he was traded to the New York Mets in the 2015-2016 off-season in an ill-faded trade for lefty pitcher Jon Niese. At the time, Walker was coming off a strong six-season run with the Bucs. From his rookie year in 2010 through 2015 he had hit .273/.338/.443 with a 115 wRC+ and 98 long balls.
Walker ended up being a top five second baseman of the first half of the decade. He ranked in the top five of wRC+ and OPS and 8th in fWAR among all second basemen in this time span. Although he wasn’t the best defensively, Walker’s offensive profile was not overlooked, as he was producing better numbers in the batter’s box than the that of Ian Kinsler, who made three All-Star Games between 2010 and 2015, as opposed to Walker never making even one.
However, the switch hitter is two seasons removed from being an above average contributor with the bat in his hands. In 2018, Walker appeared in 113 games and 398 plate appearances with the New York Yankees, and batted a measly .219/.309/.354 with an 82 OPS+. Although, in Walker’s defense, he did not sign until March 12th of that year, so he never got a full Spring Training.
He did, however, end the season on a more positive note, slashing .247/.346/.442 line in the second half of 2018. Walker mainly served a utility role. Most of his innings came at first base, but he got plenty of reps at second base and third base. He even played 109 innings in the outfield. Although he didn’t grade particularly well at any of the positions, he was at the very least passable.
2019 was also an inconsistent year for the Pittsburgh Kid. In a Miami Marlins uniform, Walker hit .261/.344/.395 with a 99 wRC+ in 381 plate appearances. But his season was interrupted by injuries.
Walker got off to a strong start in 2019, slashing .295/.375/.443 through May. But then, Walker missed almost all of June, and hit for a sub-.600 OPS between the rest of June and for all of July. Walker missed about 10 days in August, but finished the year out batting for a solid .269/.352/.426 line from August first to the end of the year. Walker was the team’s primary first baseman, and recorded -1 defensive runs saved, and a -1.5 UZR, but also saw some time at the hot corner. There, he was worth 0 DRS, and -1.0 UZR.
You can probably see a trend in the teams Walker has signed with. Most of them are close to Pittsburgh, with Miami being the furthest away, but still on the East Coast. Even if another team further out West were to offer Walker a contract and give him guaranteed roster spot, it’s possible he doesn’t even sign with them.
Like I said earlier, the stars seem to be lining up for a potential reunion with Walker. Walker could easily win a spot on the Pirates’ roster over Kevin Kramer, or Erik Gonzalez. Walker’s versatility could give the Bucs another option at third base, but also give some of the young middle infielders, like Kevin Newman or Cole Tucker (with Newman going to shortstop), days off. It’s not far-fetched either to say that he could give Bryan Reynolds a few days off here and there in left field. Plus, it would be a very nice send off if the Pittsburgh Kid were to play his final in a Pittsburgh Pirates jersey at PNC Park.