Utility Worker

Walker gets in some outfield work





PITTSBURGH—Neil Walker, the Pirates' first-round draft pick in 2005, is learning many new positions with Triple-A Indianapolis, but he has been given one primary objective: Get the bat going.

Walker, a graduate of Pine-Richland High in Gisbonia, Pa., just north of Pittsburgh, made his major league debut in his hometown last September, but he was blocked on the main roster at third base by Andy LaRoche and top prospect Pedro Alvarez. So management, with Walker's blessing, developed a plan to get him to the majors faster by having him add second base and the corner outfield positions to his repertoire.

"Neil's going to be one of those players who makes it to the majors in a utility role and works into everyday duty," general manager Neal Huntington said.

Walker, a former football wide receiver, has the athleticism to pull that off, but questions came up after he batted .270/.317/.433 in his first six years in the minors, never really taking off in Triple-A until late last season.

He got off to a good start in the opening two weeks for Indianapolis, batting .328/.406/.525 with two home runs and an encouraging eight walks in 61 at-bats after years of little patience at the plate. He's only struck out nine times and has driven in 12 runs as well.

"Neil's swung the bat well, had some good results early," farm director Kyle Stark said. "We challenged him that, no matter what position he's playing, he's got to be able to hit. He's worked hard on his approach, and the ball is coming hard off his bat as a result."

Treasure Trove

• Alvarez and high Class A third baseman Jeremy Farrell each hit three home runs in their first two games. Farrell is the son of Boston pitching coach John Farrell.

• Righthanded reliever Ramon Aguero, a member of the 40-man roster, was shut down just before Double-A Altoona's season opener because of right elbow pain.