Pittsburgh Pirates: Is Pedro Alvarez Finally Developing into a Major Leaguer?
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What happens when a can't-miss prospect misses?
The Pittsburgh Pirates and their fans have contemplated that very question over the past two years, waiting for Pedro Alvarez to develop into the star player he was expected to be as the second overall pick in the 2008 amateur draft.
After crushing minor league pitching at the Single-A and Double-A levels in his first two professional seasons, Alvarez has looked like a bust in the majors.
One month into this season, however, the Pirates' third baseman might finally be showing signs of life at the plate. Coming into Wednesday's game, Alvarez had hit home runs in two consecutive games, while driving in five runs. Over his past 11 games, he batted 13-for-35 (.371).
Are we finally seeing the emergence of the hitter everyone expected Alvarez to be?
His .222 batting average is still far too low, and he still strikes out too much. But what's most encouraging is the power Alvarez is beginning to display.
He has six home runs and 12 RBI for the season, numbers more fitting of a run producer. A .571 slugging percentage and .829 OPS is much closer to the player the Pirates hoped they were getting when they drafted him.
If it's now coming together for Alvarez, his development came through a rough two-year process.
He showed promise following a midseason call-up in 2010, eventually finishing with a respectable .256/.326/.461 slash average, 16 home runs and 64 RBI. But 119 strikeouts in 386 plate appearances showed Alvarez was far from a finished product.
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Unfortunately for him and the Pirates, things got worse for Alvarez in 2011. Plagued by a quadriceps injury, his average was .208/.283/.304 by mid-May.
And as that slugging percentage indicates, Alvarez wasn't hitting for any power and slugged just two home runs. For a player who was expected to be a big-time slugger, his lack of pop was particularly troubling.
Alvarez ended up missing 45 games with the quad injury. But after being activated from the disabled list, he still struggled terribly. Alvarez appeared in 20 games, but his average dropped to .196/.264/.284 with one home run and five RBI during that stretch.
Middle of the order run producer? Hardly.
By mid-August, the Pirates had no choice but to send Alvarez and his .548 OPS down to Triple-A in Indianapolis.
After compiling a respectable .797 OPS there, Alvarez had one last chance to salvage his season as a September call-up.
But yet again, the major leagues seemed too much for him to handle.
In 18 games, Alvarez didn't show much, batting .187/.306/.387. Although drawing walks and getting on base were encouraging signs, he still wasn't hitting for power.
However, as athletes so often like to say, that was in the past, and it's now about looking forward. We're only one month into the season, of course. So it's a bit early to anoint Alvarez as a burgeoning superstar. But he certainly looks better than he did a year ago.
The Pirates need someone—anyone—to help them score runs. They've scored the fewest in the majors, with 65. Alvarez is the only true power threat in their lineup. If he's finally swinging like it, there may be some hope for this Bucs team after all.
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