Pirates try former first-round pick Neil Walker

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neil walker fielding.jpgPoor Steve Pearce. The 27-year-old first baseman had seemingly rebounded from his very disappointing 2009 and was getting a shot at first base for the Pirates, at least on a part-time basis. However, he suffered a sprained ankle while making his ninth start Monday, requiring a DL trip.
That’s opened the door for 2004 first-round pick Neil Walker. Walker, a converted catcher, has occasionally looked like a legitimate third base prospect through the years, but he was forced into a utility role in Triple-A this year by Pedro Alvarez.
The Pirates had him play 21 games at second, 14 in left field, seven at first and one at third base before calling him up Tuesday. Fortunately, all of the moving around hadn’t taken a toll on his offense. He was hitting .321/.392/.560 with six homers in 189 at-bats. That’s a vast improvement on his 694 and 791 OPSs from his first two years in Triple-A. He’s also already matched his career high with 10 steals.
One interesting about Walker’s splits is that the switch-hitter was hitting a remarkable .385/.445/.664 in 122 at-bats against righties, as opposed to just .152/.250/.283 against lefties. It’s not going to make much sense to platoon him with the left-handed-hitting Jeff Clement at first base. However, he probably deserves some of the at-bats that have been going to Ryan Church and Andy LaRoche.
The Pirates might as well give him a lengthy trial. He’s far from a sure thing, but he’s always had some upside, and while guys like Clement, LaRoche and Lastings Milledge shouldn’t be given up on, there’s only one player in their whole lineup right now who is a sure bet to still be on the club at this time next year (Andrew McCutchen).

The international draft is all about MLB making money and the union selling out non-members

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - MARCH 13:  A fan flies the Dominican Republic flag during the game against Cuba during Round 2 of the World Baseball Classic on March 13, 2006 at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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On Monday we passed along a report that Major League Baseball and the MLBPA are negotiating over an international draft. That report — from ESPN’s Buster Olney — cited competitive balance and the well-being of international free agents as the reasons why they’re pushing for the draft.

We have long doubted those stated motivations and said so again in our post on Monday. But we’re just armchair skeptics when it comes to this. Ben Badler of Baseball America is an expert. Perhaps the foremost expert on international baseball, international signings and the like. Today he writes about a would-be international draft and he tears MLB, the MLBPA and their surrogates in the media to shreds with respect to their talking points.

Of course Badler is a nice guy so “tearing to shreds” is probably putting it too harshly. Maybe it’s better to say that he systematically dismantles the stated rationale for the international draft and makes plan what’s really going on: MLB is looking to save money and the players are looking to sell out non-union members to further their own bargaining position:

Major League Baseball has long wanted an international draft. The driving force behind implementing an international draft is for owners to control their labor costs by paying less money to international amateur players, allowing owners to keep more of that money . . . the players’ association doesn’t care about international amateur players as anything more than a bargaining chip. It’s nothing discriminatory against foreign players, it’s just that the union looks out for players on 40-man rosters. So international players, draft picks in the United States and minor leaguers who make less than $10,000 in annual salary get their rights sold out by the union, which in exchange can negotiate items like a higher major league minimum salary, adjustments to the Super 2 rules or modifying draft pick compensation attached to free agent signings.

Badler then walks through the process of how players are discovered, scouted and signed in Latin America and explains, quite convincingly, how MLB’s international draft and, indeed, its fundamental approach to amateurs in Latin America is lacking.

Read this. Then, every time a U.S.-based writer with MLB sources talks about the international draft, ask whether they know something Ben Badler doesn’t or, alternatively, whether they’re carrying water for either the league or the union.

President Bill Murray speaks about the Cubs from the White House

CHICAGO - APRIL 12:  Celebrity Bill Murray clowns around with Chicago media before the opening day game between the Chicago Cubs and the Pittsburgh Pirates on April 12, 2004 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Pirates defeated the Cubs 13-2.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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I don’t know why Bill Murray is in Washington today. I don’t know why he’s at the White House. But I do know that he was there in Chicago Cubs gear, standing at the lectern in the press briefing room, voicing his full confidence in the Cubs prevailing in the NLCS, despite the fact that Clayton Kershaw is going for the Dodgers tomorrow night.

“Too many sticks,” president Murray said of the Cubs lineup. And something about better trees in Illinois.

Four. More. Years.