Can Walker save woeful Pirates infield?

Updated: June 2, 2010, 5:07 PM ET
By Eric Karabell

About a month ago an angry, bitter and likely long-suffering Pittsburgh Pirates fan -- there are many of them, I would guess -- kept e-mailing me about how bad his favorite team's regular infield was, from Jeff Clement to Akinori Iwamura and Andy LaRoche. Occasionally, he'd rip Ronny Cedeno at shortstop, though let's admit that expectations weren't particularly high there. I couldn't disagree about the totality of the underachieving, having been burned by each of these guys at some point in fantasy baseball over the past year or so. What I found interesting was this fan wasn't complaining about Pedro Alvarez needing to be promoted from Triple-A. This guy wanted Neil Walker in the big leagues. Neil Walker?

Each time I read this fellow's daily thoughts about Walker, I chuckled, because this didn't seem like someone who was going to make a difference in the major leagues. A switch-hitting third baseman and the organization's top draft choice in 2004, Walker didn't have the look of future stardom as he kept repeating Triple-A Indianapolis year after year, first starting in 2007. He was still there a bit more than a week ago, pushed over to second base so Alvarez could play regularly. Alvarez is the stud prospect, with immense power, knocking in nearly a run per game. Walker seems like organizational fodder, yet another top draft pick looking like a bust.

While it remains too early to recommend Walker in ESPN standard (10-team) mixed fantasy leagues, the Pirates' new regular second baseman -- this happened when Iwamura was mercifully benched over the weekend -- is starting to garner interest in deeper formats. He slugged his first major league home run Tuesday against the Chicago Cubs, a two-run shot off Ted Lilly in the bottom of the eighth inning to give the Pirates a 3-2 lead that Octavio Dotel held. Walker has been hitting since his recall May 25, delivering four multihit games in his first seven starts. For a kid who grew up in the Pittsburgh suburbs, it's a feel-good story so far, as a prospect many felt had already failed might be pulling a Casey McGehee -- you know, marginal minor league stats but good in the big leagues -- and surprising everyone.