Neil Walker is only 24-years-old but has the prospect life of someone a few years his senior. Baseball America featured the 11th overall pick of the 2004 draft on four consecutive top 100 lists between 2005 and 2008. Walker peaked at 43 and fell off entering the 2009 season. During that stretch, Walker changed positions – from catching to third base – before ultimately finding a position that would lock him into the Buccos’ everyday lineup.
Though it is important to keep in mind how little time Walker has spent at the keystone, the defensive reports on Walker have not been encouraging to date. None of our fielding metrics are particularly kind to his play at second base this season and it seems the only area in which he’s excelled is turning the double play. One would suspect that Walker’s play would improve with experience, although Skip Schumaker is proof that sometimes that is not the case.
Walker’s defensive struggles would be immaterial if his bat were equally poor. Instead, Walker’s offensive production looks like an uplifting calypso tune on an otherwise scratched record. The .364 wOBA looks good, indeed, and Walker’s slash line is strong amongst second basemen. The walk rate (5.6%) and strikeout rate (21.3%) represent the incorrectly named Walker’s pitfalls.
Walker has the second best on-base percentage amongst players with a walk-to-strikeout ratio under 0.35, trailing only Carlos Gonzalez. In order to succeed with that skill set, a player has to either hit for a lot of power or hit for a high average. Walker is doing a bit of either so far with his average being propped by a .372 batting average on balls in play. Can Walker sustain that heading forward? Maybe, but betting on it seems like an unsafe proposition.
That’s not to say Walker cannot grow and mature into a fine offensive second baseman. It’s just to say he’s probably not one of the elite hitters at the position heading forward unless the BABIP proves sustainable.