Neil Walker became a free agent following the 2017 season. The Yankees signed him in mid-March of 2018. When starting first baseman Greg Bird landed on the DL, Walker took over the everyday role. The Yankees hoped the nine-year veteran would be a positive addition to the lineup. Initially, that was not the case.
Anyone who watched the Yankees’ first several weeks of play this season knows they endured their share of struggles. Neil Walker was no exception. By the end of April, he slashed .159/.192/.174. His contributions to the team were few. Then, things started to pick up in May. His average climbed to .294, and he collected more hits and walks, putting him on base more often. He even hit his first walk-off for the Yankees, an 11th inning single.
Once the Yankees reinstated Greg Bird from the DL, Walker’s playing time lessened. He played only 12 games in June, spending more time on the bench than on the field. The lack of everyday at-bats yielded a nasty slash line: .063/.143/.063. Some fans wondered if he’d be on the team much longer.
Walker silenced speculations, finishing July with a .345 average, 20 hits, 11 RBI, 9 BB. Consistent production during this month made the Yankees give him a second look. His streakiness can overshadow his potential, but the numbers show his capabilities.
Through the first third of August, Neil Walker has really started to heat up.
In Thursday’s game against the Texas Rangers, he hit two home runs, one from each side of the plate. He already has three homers this month, the most in a single month with the Yankees.
Manager Aaron Boone praised Walker for his recent offensive contributions, according to New York Post’s Howie Kussoy:
“I know what kind of hitter he is,” manager Aaron Boone said. “It’s nice, right now, when we are beat up, you know when he’s gonna be in there that he’s swinging the bat like the Neil Walker we’ve seen most of his career.”
On several occasions, Walker’s spot on the roster seemed a question mark. However, he continues to make a case for himself to stay on the team, proving his value. With Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge on the DL, the Yankees need all the offensive production they can get. Walker offers the veteran perspective, and he’s also become a utility player. He’s played 21 games at 2B, 11 at 3B, and even a couple in RF.
3 HR in last 17 games
2 HR in first 60 games
— Katie Sharp (@ktsharp) August 10, 2018
For the remainder of the season, Neil Walker will likely play on a semi-regular basis. His frequency of play is contingent upon not only how well he plays, but also how Bird does. Walker has shown both extremes–his hot streaks are great for the team, but during slumps, he really struggles.
Greg Bird has not quite performed to where the Yankees had hoped. He’s had some good stretches, but going forward, better numbers and more consistency would be greatly beneficial for the Yankees’ first base position. This season, Bird has a .212 AVG with 9 HR and 27 RBI.
In summary, Neil Walker has been imperfect. He’s had stretches of both good and bad while playing for the Yankees. But as the backup first baseman, he’s overall been able to provide the team with solid contact, and error-free fielding. If Walker plays well at the right times, his role on the bench as a utility player can help the Yankees as they look towards the postseason.