Like the "Pirates should send Charlie Morton to the minors" post a few days ago, this is hardly cutting-edge stuff, since it's something a lot of you have been screaming about for a while now. But I tend to be more conservative than most about moving prospects through the system, so my calls to promote Player X or demote Player Y will tend to come later than those of many of the fans. Already I'm behind Pat on this one.
Here it is, though. Again, for a team in the Pirates' situation, playing time is a valuable resource, in that you can use it to learn about what you have (and, in the case of veterans, to show other teams what you have). At this point, there is simply no reason to waste a valuable resource like playing time on Akinori Iwamura, who is slow in the field and whose only virtue at the plate is his willingness to take a pitch. Iwamura is now 31 and has about 150 at bats with an OPS+ of 32. He's awful. Enough is enough.
If the Pirates bench or release Iwamura, there is no one currently on the 25-man roster who should be playing second every day. Delwyn Young would probably be the best choice, but he can't field the position and hasn't hit this year. Bobby Crosby has played competently as a bench infielder, but there's no reason to expand his role beyond that at this point in his career. It's too bad that Iwamura has been a bust, but at the same time, the Pirates should see the vacancy he's created as an opportunity to see what another player can do. That player should be Neil Walker.
As everyone here knows, I'm not a huge fan of Walker. Before this year, the best thing one could say about him was that he was a former first round pick. Beyond that, he was been a disappointment as he came up the chain. Before 2010 he had only posted an OBP above .345 one time in all his stops in the minors. His Class AAA OBPs the last two years were .280 and .311, which was awful, and which portended failure in the big leagues if he didn't improve. His power was fine, but not much better. And his batting averages were mediocre. He also showed a sense of entitlement about being in the major leagues that was bizarre coming from a guy who had received a seven-figure bonus upon signing and who had done precious little to justify it. In fact, the Pirates cited Walker's attitude as one reason that he was passed over in favor of Steve Pearce when the Bucs needed an extra player a couple weeks ago. From everything I've read, Walker seems immature for his age, and it doesn't seem he deserves the talent he's been given. Frankly, he seems like a hard player to root for.
Still, it's time to put all that aside. Walker has been playing second at Indianapolis, and apparently has played it well. (Pat has some links to some very brief first-hand reports in the link in the first paragraph.) And if there's one thing Walker really deserves praise for, it's been his talent and adaptability as an infielder. After years as a catcher, he molded himself into a good defensive third baseman. He should be able to do the same at second. His hitting this year also has improved markedly--he's hitting for a high average and terrific power, drawing some walks and even stealing some bases. Other than the issue of his hustle, there's nothing not to like about his play this year. He appears to be ready for a shot.
Almost as importantly, the timing is right for him to get one. Plainly, Pedro Alvarez should be well ahead of Walker on the Pirates' list of long-term priorities, but Kyle Stark himself has said that Alvarez is behind Walker in the promotion queue, and rightly so. Alvarez hasn't played badly this year, but he's hitting .247. He certainly has the talent to improve in that area, but since contact issues will probably always be his bugaboo, he should work through them at Class AAA until things get better.
Once Alvarez does make it to the big leagues, he'll play every day, which could create a problem for Walker. Andy LaRoche will probably move from third to second. LaRoche seems like a volatile player who is prone to inexplicable slumps with both the bat and the glove, but he has probably done enough with both to warrant more playing time. That might make it difficult to find a role for Walker that goes beyond his being the new Delwyn Young.
In the meantime, though, there's a gaping hole at second that will be there until Alvarez arrives. Walker should fill it. There's been some talk around here about what calling Walker up now would do with regard to his future arbitration eligibility and Super Two status, but I don't think we should worry about that. Players like Alvarez and Andrew McCutchen are important enough that the Pirates should worry about such things, but Walker really is not, and if he can help the Pirates now, then I think they should play him.