Birth Place: Pittsburgh, PA
Height: 6′ 3″
Weight: 215 lbs.
Son of former big league pitcher Tom Walker, Neil was drafted in the first round of the 2004 MLB Draft by his hometown team. He was drafted as a catcher, but switch to third base in spring training of 2007 when he was a non-roster invitee. That season, Walker was ranked #74 on Baseball America’s list of Top 100 prospects. He was called up to the big league on September 1st, 2009, and got his first major league hit five nights later. As a September call-up that year, Walker hit just .194 in 17 games and never became an everyday player.
In 2010, Walker started the year with Triple-A Indianapolis, but got the call to Pittsburgh on May 25 after Steve Pearce went on the DL. He started playing 3B, but with Andy LaRoche as the everyday man at the hot corner, manager John Russell decided to give the versatile Walker a shot at 2B. The high risk, low reward Aki Iwamura was stuggling mightily at second, and Walker jumped right in. He propelled the Buccos to a 3-2 win over the Cubs on June 1 with his first major league homer off lefty Ted Lilly. Walker finished the 2010 campaign with a .296 average, 12 homers, and 66 RBI. He had 54 RBI after the All-Star Break, which tied with slugger Albert Pujols for third most in the National League. He was named to Baseball America’s All-Rookie Team, as well as the Topps Major League Rookie All-Star Team.
Walker’s production in 2010 gave Pirates fans lots of excitement for 2011. On Opening Day in Chicago, he hit his first career grand slam, joining legend Roberto Clemente as the only other Pirate to hit a grand slam in the season’s first game. In May, he drove in a career-high 5 RBI in a 10-1 win over Detroit. Even though he didn’t put up earth-shattering numbers and only a decent average, Walker still provided solid production and played a very steady second base. He had a fielding percentage of .992 and was nominated for a Gold Glove at his position.
Although he might not be named to All-Star teams or win any batting titles, Neil Walker is still a pretty solid big league second baseman. He might not hit for the best average or steal the most bases, but he’s definitely an upgrade over the past few Pirates second basemen. You can tell he loves playing in his hometown and he’s certainly a fan favorite. It’s great watching “The Pittsburgh Kid” play ball and he’ll hopefully remain in town for years to come.