The Yankees have to make a decision on Neil Walker
At the time the Yankees signed Neil Walker late into spring training it was looked at as a very smart signing. With questions surrounding the starting infield and rookies Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres, it made sense to bring in Walker as extra depth until they were ready to take over as everyday players.
Of course, now we all know that Torres and Andujar were more than ready for the major league stage as they’ve both been outstanding this season. They’re probably one and two in the AL Rookie of the Year race and project to be All-Star caliber players in the Yankees infield for the next decade-plus.
Even after the arrival of the two rookies Walker still found a lot of playing time early on in the season at first base with Greg Bird out recovering from ankle surgery. He struggled early in April but played a key role in the Yankees turnaround after their 9-9 start with some timely hitting in late game situations.
However, now Bird is back and even though Walker kept his spot on the roster over the recently demoted Tyler Austin his role has been reduced to that of a bench player. These days Walker pretty much starts only once or twice a week and because of that his struggles at the plate have returned.
After hitting .294 in May Walker has hit .100 thus far in June. His at-bats have decreased and it’s clearly something he is having trouble adjusting too. Over the course of his career, Walker has been an everyday player and key contributor and has never really come off the bench.
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Aaron Boone has tried to give him some spot starts at first and third in recent weeks, but Walker hasn’t responded with results. With Austin gone, a lot of his starts have come in place of Bird, but they’ve been against left-handed pitching which Walker has really struggled against all season. As a right-handed hitter, the switch-hitting Walker is batting .161 which makes it hard to understand why most of his at-bats of late have come against lefties.
I understand it’s a way to platoon him with the lefty-swinging Bird, but clearly, Walker is a much better hitter from the left side right now and has been for most of his career. You can’t help but think the rightie hitting Austin would be much better serving in this role, but because he has options remaining the Yankees decided to send him down.
Are Walker’s days in pinstripes numbered?
Walker still provides value because of the versatility he brings to the Yankees roster, but as he continues to struggle off the bench the team may look elsewhere for an upgrade. At Triple-A Scranton they have Brandon Drury and Ronald Torreyes hoping for a call-up to the big league roster. Like Walker, they can also play all over the infield, but they’re strictly right-handed hitters who could help the Yankees much more against left-handed pitching.
Especially Drury because of his power and the fact that recently he’s been getting more reps at first base. This could be a sign of a move to come. It remains to be seen where that leaves Walker, but unfortunately, it could lead to his release.
The Yankees could also include Walker in a trade in the coming weeks but at this point in his career, I don’t think he would have much interest from opposing clubs. He’s a veteran player at the back end of his career and every team in baseball these days is looking for younger players. That’s not to say he couldn’t thrive in a situation where he could start and play more but I just don’t see him being traded. A designation for assignment seems much more likely.
Walker has survived the Yankees roster crunch all season, but his time may be running out. If an injury happens anywhere in the infield other than shortstop he’d be a fine replacement to step in but unless that happens he’s going to continue to be glued to the bench. His at-bats will be limited and he just hasn’t shown that he can be productive playing once or twice a week.
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We’ll wait and see if the Yankees end up opting to cut ties with Walker and the remaining money on his one year, $4 million deal, but it’s definitely something to keep an eye on moving forward.