Last season the Pittsburgh Pirates gave a contract extension to outfielder Jose Tabata and promptly did the same in March to outfielder Andrew McCutchen, many Pirates fans were left wondering when the same would happen to second baseman Neil Walker.
Last year I wrote that it was too early to invest in Walker and I felt the same early on this season. Extending Tabata so early has proven to be a mistake and I never saw the need to rush into extending Walker so soon, especially since he’s under team control until 2017 and not arbitration eligible until 2013.
But while I may have been initially concerned about Walker being able to have sustained success with the bat, Walker has done a fine job of erasing all of those doubts.
After a 2011 campaign in which he hit .273 with 12 homers and 83 RBI, Walker has followed that up by hitting .292/13/65 already in 2012. In addition, Walker’s slugging percentage is up from .408 to .454 and his OPS is up from .742 to .811.
Everyone knows how Walker has turned himself into an outstanding defensive second baseman, but the way he’s turned himself into an outstanding major league hitter has been just as impressive.
After a slow start to this season, Walker hit .292 in June, followed by an outstanding month of July in which he hit .358. He’s not going to have months like that all of the time, but he’s hitting .300 in the month of August.
Then there’s the fact that more time than not Walker comes up big in pressure situations. More than any other Pirates hitter, Walker seems to turn in one quality at bat after another. He’s not going to ever be a 25 homer type of hitter, but Walker is simply just a good major league hitter who gets hits when he has to and that’s the ultimate compliment. He’s simply a gamer.
While locking up McCutchen to an extension had to be Pirates general manager Neal Huntington’s top priority entering the season, locking up Walker now has to be at the top of that short list.
Unlike a guy like Tabata, given Walker’s work ethic and production, an extension for the Pittsburgh Kid makes perfect sense.