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2011 Sleepers: Neil Walker

Longtime Pirates prospect Neil Walker finally broke through this year.  The 25-year-old had his third extended shot at Triple-A, switching to second base.  There he hit .321/.392/.560 in 189 plate appearances with six home runs and ten stolen bases in 189 plate appearances.  Astute fantasy owners were all over Walker's May 25th call-up, and were sure to pounce a week later when he became the starter at second base.

Walker rewarded the Pirates and fantasy owners with a .296/.349/.462 performance in 469 plate appearances, which should earn Rookie of the Year consideration.  Fantasy-wise he had a .296-12-66-57-2 line.  His defense didn't draw rave reviews, but that's not a fantasy concern.  Walker mostly batted second or third in the lineup, allowing him to average 4.26 plate appearances per game.  That could mean 639 PAs over 150 games in 2011.

If Walker can keep up this level of offense, we're looking at .296-16-90-78-3 on the season.  I expect different numbers though.  Intuitively I'd look for something like .280-15-70-90-10 from Walker as he lets up on the RBIs, scores more runs, and attempts more steals.  At Triple-A he attempted to steal about 23% of the time, and he'll probably have a better success rate than his big league 40% mark.

We don't know yet where Walker will be drafted in fantasy leagues, but since he's a Pirate and his counting stats were limited by his late May call-up, I'm betting he'll be a bargain.  I'll guess 10th round or later, depending on how hot the sleeper buzz gets by March.

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