Walker, others on the rise

Pirates prospects find their way to the big leagues





PITTSBURGH—One by one, they came from Triple-A Indianapolis: Neil Walker, then Brad Lincoln and Jose Tabata and, not far behind, Pedro Alvarez.

The Pirates' top four prospects all shone in the minors and began to arrive in rapid succession, assuming immediate roles with the team, largely because of their own performance and potential but also because so few on the previous 25-man roster had staked a claim.

Walker grabbed the starting second base job from Aki Iwamura and batted .322/.365/.492 in his first two weeks. Lincoln went right into the rotation and made his debut June 9, and Tabata joined on the same date and went 2-for-4 with a walk and steal.

"It's exciting," manager John Russell said. "Neil came up and did well, and now watching Brad and Jose make this step . . . it's what we've been building for these past few years, not only getting guys in trades who could help us now but also getting guys we felt could contribute down the road. We're definitely heading in the right direction."

"It's going to be fun to have all of us here, players who have grown up together, won together," Walker said. "There's a lot of talent here right now."

The general quality of Pittsburgh's system has improved since new management took over in late 2007, notably at the lower levels because of aggressive drafting. But it remains to be seen what develops at the top two levels with the big four prospects in place.

The Pirates are happy to have Double-A Altoona's pitching, especially since it is being driven by bona fide prospects in righthanders Bryan Morris and Tim Alderson and lefthander Rudy Owens. But the next-best positional prospect now will be found at high Class A Bradenton in catcher Tony Sanchez. And with the front office vowing no more veteran-for-prospect trades, it almost surely will take the upper levels time to restock.

TREASURE TROVE

• Lefthander Donnie Veal had Tommy John surgery June 4 and will miss the requisite 12-18 months. He had been 3-2, 4.35 for Indianapolis.

• Sanchez had to miss four games because of concussion-like symptoms after being beaned June 4. That always is a long-term concern with any catcher—the Pirates' Ryan Doumit remains plagued by such issues—but management said tests cleared Sanchez of any actual concussion.