Not so fast, Huntington cautioned.
"We have some things that Andy needs to work on, and we're looking forward to him capitalizing on the opportunity to take the everyday third-base job," Huntington said on Thursday. "But it's not going to be handed to him. He's going to have to earn it."
LaRoche has done little to solidify his case for earning the job in his two months with the Pirates, so far. If anything, he's taken a step back.
Heading into Thursday's series finale vs. the Brewers, he carried a .167 batting average and only 18 RBIs in 209 at-bats. His 10 season errors, many the result of inadequate footwork, haven't helped make a good first impression, either.
"Obviously, it's not been what anybody wants to this point, and I think Andy would be the first to acknowledge that," Huntington said.
While the organization is still confident that the once highly touted prospect will develop into an above-average hitter, the reality is that if LaRoche is unable to remedy some of his offensive and defensive problems early in spring, Walker could be in position to give him a legitimate challenge for the starting job.
Huntington has indicated that there are still checkpoints the organization would like Walker to meet in the Minors before earning a promotion. However, if LaRoche doesn't show improvement by Spring Training and Walker does, Walker may force management's hand to rethink its initial stance.
"Andy has already done some things at Triple-A that we are anticipating Neil will do," Huntington said. "But if it's not Andy, then certainly Neil Walker becomes a candidate."
Huntington also brought up the possibility of "creatively exploring" other options through the free-agent market or the waiver wire this offseason to bring in an external solution for third. However, with the Pirates hesitant to impair the development of both LaRoche and Walker, such a move seems unlikely.