The new Pirates management wants to see third baseman Neil Walker improve his stamina to be able to play well deeper into the season. Trent Jewett, who was Walker’s manager during Walker’s brief stint at Triple-A Indianapolis last year and will be his manager again this year, said that Walker wore down last season.
"A lot of Neil’s fatigue factor was probably mental because of all the newness," Jewett said. "He was facing players with five, six more years of pro experience. Those guys know how to get through the season. You have to deal with what it takes to put together a full season, from the travel to dealing with teammates to preparing to play. And I think he’ll be better prepared this year because of the crash course he just had."
First-year general manager Neal Huntington also noted that Walker, the team’s No. 2 prospect and the No. 61 overall prospect in baseball, will have to maintain his level of production from the beginning of the season to the end.
"Neil has to understand what it takes physically to play deep into October, which is where our franchise wants to get to," general manager Neal Huntington said. "He has to learn how to pace himself, maintain himself, have that in-season program of maintenance. And he has to understand how important that program is for him."
Walker’s poor second half could have just been a one-year fluke, but his performance undoubtedly dipped in the second half last year. Walker hit .308/.377/.542 in 376 at-bats through his first three months of Double-A last year, but his performance regressed once July came, and he hit .253/.337/.323 in 158 Double-A at-bats in July and August. In a brief promotion to Triple-A in mid-August, Walker hit .203/.261/.250 in 64 at-bats.
Back in 2006 when he was with high Class A Lynchburg, Walker performed better in the second half than he did in the first half, but he also missed the first six weeks of that season after hurting his left wrist in the Arizona Fall League. Walker’s move from catcher to third base should alleviate some of the defensive and durability demands that Walker previously had to handle.