Pittsburgh Pirates fans have been waiting for second baseman Neil Walker to arrive as a legitimate offensive force ever since he hit .273 and drove in 83 runs during the 2011 campaign.
In the two years that followed, Walker has taken more than a step backwards at the plate as the improvements we have been waiting for just haven’t come.
Injuries caused Walker to play in just 129 games in 2012, where he drove in 69 runs. Walker played in 133 games last season, when he struggled at times and drove in only 59.
His struggles from the right side of the plate are also well-documented and have played a major role in his decline as well.
But while it has only been 14 games so far in the 2014 season, you have to be a little bit encouraged at where Walker is with the bat right now.
His five homers through 14 games leave him one behind major-league leader Mark Trumbo and has Walker well on his way to eclipsing his career-high 16 long balls he hit a season ago.
In addition, his overall power numbers – .582 SLG, .892 OPS and 140 OPS+ – are well above his career numbers.
Now the question is can Walker maintain his productive start throughout the course of the season?
His MLB history would suggest that it is not possible and this is merely just a nice streak for Walker to start the season.
He’s never been much of a power guy, with a career OPS of only .765, and has proven to be a very streaky hitter, which will likely lead to his numbers coming back to his career averages before long.
But his hot start is very encouraging.
If Walker can stay healthy, it is hard to not believe that he has the chance to set career marks across the board this season. Then there is the fact that this is Walker’s fourth full season in the majors, meaning he should start figuring things out by now. It looks as if he is.
I’m not totally convinced that Walker is in store for a huge year, because it’s early. But his start to the season suggests that it could be a big year for the Pittsburgh native.
For this Pirates offense to have success, they need someone to emerge as a legitimate run producer.
Walker could turn out to be that guy.