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Minor Leagues: Bixler Hot, Walker Improving

Class AAA Indianapolis: Brian Bixler has hit .452 in his last ten games and is now hitting .362/.456/.492. I've never been a big believer in Bixler, but with the way things are going, it seems like a good time to try to get Bixler's bat in the big-league lineup. Right now, Jose Castillo is playing third for the Bucs; why not put Bixler there? And when Jose Bautista returns, I'd move Jack Wilson to the bench. Hey, why not? The offense isn't getting the job done - there shouldn't be any sacred cows. Elsewhere, Yurendell DeCaster is hitting .333/..455/.470. Nyjer Morgan has a dislocated thumb and had surgery yesterday. Bryan Bullington had a bad start yesterday against Syracuse, allowing four runs and three walks.

Class AA Altoona: Steven Pearce has a .910 OPS and eight extra-base hits since being promoted, although he has only drawn one walk. Andrew McCutchen continues to struggle. On the pitching side, Luis Munoz, 25, seems to be making some sort of late bid to achieve prospect status - he's got 36 strikeouts and just ten walks in 40 innings to go along with a 2.03 ERA, even though he struggled some at Class A last year.

Neil Walker went 4-4 yesterday against Portland (Maine) and is now hitting .283/.343/.500, which is far better than I expected from him at this point in the season. Walker says the switch from catcher may have something to do with his success:

"It's been helpful [for my offense] that I haven't been catching," Walker said. "It's a very, very big thing."

Some nights, Walker said catching would "really take a toll" in his third and fourth at-bats.

"It was almost to the point where you're thinking, 'I just want to get this over with,' so you swing at the first pitch," he said. "If I get a hit, great. If I don't, who cares? That hasn't been the case this year."

Walker doesn't sound like a very mature person, to be completely honest, but if he keeps hitting like this, I'll take him anyway.

He also seems to be developing power:

"The one thing I've noticed from years past, when catching, I'd hit balls and they'd be off the wall, caught at the warning track, bounce at the warning track," Walker said. "This year, the five home runs that I have, they haven't been bombs, but they have kind of snuck out.

"You wonder if it would be any different if I was catching."

Well, maybe it would, but I think it's more likely that he's just getting stronger. Hopefully, his development will continue.

Class A+ Lynchburg: Jamie Romak's recent promotion hasn't stopped him from killing the ball -  he's hitting .257/.458/.457. Those are some really weird, Adam Dunn-like numbers - Romak has 13 strikeouts and 11 walks against just 35 at bats. There's obviously a lot to like about the walks, but I'm concerned that he'll keep the strikeouts but not the walks as he moves up the chain - once he gets to the high minors, he'll have to start facing pitchers who know how to throw stirkes. Romak might actually benefit from being a little bit more aggressive. He needs to make better contact.

Anyway, the only Lynchburg hitting prospect who's doing much is outfielder Jason Delaney, who's hitting .328/.414/.487. Among pitchers, Todd Redmond was good in his last start and reliever Pat Bresnehan hasn't allowed a walk or an earned run in his last four appearances, which cover 6.1 innings.

Class A Hickory: With the departures of Romak and James Boone, the Crawdads haven't been hitting much. Cameron Blair, the Bucs' sixth round pick in the '05 draft, joined the Crawdads' lineup on May 4 and has hit decently, but he was demoted from Lynchburg, so the Pirates don't appear to consider him a prospect. One of the few Crawdads who has hit well has been Jared Keel, who they're finally letting play every day. That's a good idea, I think - Keel probably isn't a prospect, but unlike most of the guys who populate the Pirates' Class A teams, he hasn't proven that yet. Serguey Linares hasn't allowed an earned run in 12 innings, but he's got three unearned ones and has only struck out four.