Neil Walker has been in this league too long to not understand the ups and downs of a 162-game season. Walker was signed by the New York Yankees late in spring training to be a short-term solution at second base while Gleyber Torres and Tyler Wade got more reps in the minor leagues. Torres was coming off Tommy John surgery and Wade’s bat didn’t quite look ready yet. Perhaps, the late start had a negative effect on Walker’s play early on, but now in the second half of the season, Walker has become the player the Yankees envisioned.
The Yankees’ lineup, which leads the majors in home runs, are not in dire need of Walker’s contributions, however with Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez currently on the disabled list, offense will have to come from other areas.
Walker has primarily been a second baseman throughout his decade long career, and despite that being the plan, he has turned into a utility man seeing time at first base, third base, and designated hitter. It’s also worth noting Walker was a defensive replacement in right field in Saturday’s game against the Royals, his first time in the outfield in the big leagues. The point is manager Aaron Boone has felt comfortable shuffling Walker for the betterment of the team, regardless of the situation.
And to Boone’s credit, he has faced some criticism during the season for how long he has stuck with Walker. When asked by the media about Walker’s struggles, Boone would shift the discussion to saying that he is having good at-bats, is enduring some bad luck, and a hot streak will come. Boone is known to have his players’ backs and be a strong communicator, something he has excelled in, specifically with Walker.Without Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez in the lineup, someone needs to step up for the @Yankees. Neil Walker has done exactly that.Click To Tweet
With the injuries the Yankees have encountered, consistent playing time has benefited Walker, especially in the month of July. Walker is batting .365 with a .935 OPS over a 19-game span, which is a major improvement to how he hit prior. His average has also increased 32 points from what it was at the All-Star break. Hitting home runs has never been a major aspect of Walker’s game, and he has stuck to what he does best. Working deep counts at the plate, and being willing to go the other way, something that is a dying breed in today’s game.
Walker doesn’t have to hit over .350, like he has of late the rest of the way to keep a roster spot, but with the Yankees depth, there always will be someone in Scranton deserving to be on the 25-man roster. Tyler Austin and Ronald Torreyes both have proven themselves to be capable major-leaguers, and recently acquired first baseman Luke Voit is another internal candidate with big league experience.
Walker has had a successful career, which has included several trips to the postseason. The Yankees were interested in Walker throughout the winter, and eventually got him as his market never really developed. At this stage of his career, he knows his role, and is doing his job in maximizing his opportunity. Walker does not have a World Series ring, and this chance to win in New York made it a logical fit. The outcries calling for the Yankees to consider letting him go were out there, but as we know baseball is a marathon, not a sprint. Walker has been here before, and is here again, where the team’s patience is now paying off.
Despite these injuries the team has been hit with, Walker is still going to be towards the bottom of the order, but can take hold of the DH role during Judge’s absence. Torres along with Miguel Andujar are still rookies, so having Walker as a steady veteran who can play both positions as well gives Boone more options as we move into the later months of the season.
The Yankees are currently 5.5 games behind the Boston Red Sox who are dominating where it seems like they hardly ever lose. Owning the first Wild Card spot appears to be the floor for the Yankees, although this is a team through the trades they have made understand the magnitude of winning the division and avoiding a one game scenario.
If the Yankees decide to stand pat from now until Tuesday afternoon, one of their “acquisitions” could be this vastly improved version of Neil Walker. The one Boone saw coming all year long now producing at the right time.