Neil Walker, who three years ago was switched to third base at the start of spring training, strapped on his catcher’s gear this morning at Pirate City and caught Zach Duke’s bullpen session.
Another position change is not in the works, though, for the former first-round draft pick.
“Just exploring my options,” Walker told me a few minutes ago by phone from Bradenton, Fla. “I’m trying to add value to myself and knock some of the rust off a little bit. I figured if there’s going to be a time to do it, it’d be now.”
The first official workout for pitchers and catchers is noon tomorrow. Duke was among four pitchers (the group also included Charlie Morton and Daniel McCutchen) who threw a very light and quick bullpen session this morning.
Walker asked management if he could fill in at catcher if the team needed help during spring training. The last pitcher he caught in a game was Shane Youman in the Arizona Fall League in 2006. Walker figures it had been four or five years since he caught Duke.
Walker hadn’t forgotten the mechanics of how to catch. But there was one aspect of the position his body wasn’t ready for. “You get sore pretty quickly,” Walker said, laughing. “I really need to go ice down.”
By doing some work now behind the plate, Walker could help himself if (or, more likely, when) he moves on to another organization. At third base, he’s caught in a logjam behind incumbent Andy LaRoche and fast-rising top prospect Pedro Alvarez. At catcher, he would be stuck behind Ryan Doumit, Jason Jaramillo and last year’s first-round draft pick, Tony Sanchez. Even if Walker converted again to an outfielder, his chances for playing time with the Pirates would be slim.