The Pirates announced yesterday that going forward, Neil Walker will be the starting second baseman and Akinori Iwamura will move to the bench. Even though Iwamura has hit fairly well (comparatively, at least) since returning from whatever injury it was that he had, this is obviously the right move as Walker’s done nothing but hit so far and as I’ve said ad nauseum, young players are always worth playing over older players when you’re in the Pirates’ situation.
At Bucs Dugout, ddtoddwin uses a FanPost to point out that the Pirates have made themselves look pretty stupid by reversing their stance on how much Walker will play in a week. That’s technically true, but it’s also true that the way they’ve handled Walker this year isn’t in any way inconsistent with the way Walker’s been treated in the last couple years by the current mangement team. The message has always been constant, that Walker might be a former first round pick, but that he’s going to have to earn his keep.
In fact, that’s what’s impressed me about Walker in the last year or so. Last year, he complained about being singled out by management for unfair treatment because he was a Littlefield draftee. That was a ridiculous complaint and management more or less publicly said so. So he went out and killed the ball in August and got a September call-up. He was clearly overwhelmed in September, but in April and May of this year he improved on his huge August while learning a bunch of new positions. The Pirates called him up, but with the same message as in the past: “You’re here and we’ll put you in the lineup, but if you want to stay there, you have to convince us.” So in 29 plate appearances this year, he’s got more hits and more extra base hits than he had in 40 last year and it’s surely a small sample size, but he’s here and he’s hitting and so he has to keep playing.
It would’ve been easy for Walker to keep moping after he barely played during his callup last season and then was asked to learn a bunch of new positions this spring. I don’t think Neal Huntington’s management team necessarily singled him out because he’s a Littlefield draftee (see: Andrew McCutchen), but it’s probably true that he’s viewed slightly differently than the guys that their front office acquired themselves because that’s just human nature. But Walker’s gone out and earned a chance at extended playing time, and the Pirates are going to give it to him. Frankly, I’m happy to see that a prospect has responded to management’s challenges and that management has altered their plans to accommodate him. I don’t know where Walker will end up from here (he’s going to have to hit well for a lot longer than seven games to drastically alter my perception of him as a utility guy with a great glove and an iffy bat), but we should all be happy with the way this has played out this year. Management can say a lot of things, but in the end the only thing that matters is action.