When the Pittsburgh Pirates selected Pedro Alvarez with the second overall pick in the 2008 MLB draft, they were hoping they had found the power-hitting left-handed bat they'd been missing since they traded away Brian Giles.
When talking about the pick with MLB.com, GM Neal Huntington described the future he envisioned for the Vanderbilt superstar:
It's our belief that he has the potential of being a middle-of-the-lineup-type bat with the added potential of being a left-handed hitter at PNC Park. It's our belief that he will be a quality Major League third baseman.
After dominating the minor leagues for two seasons Alvarez was called up in 2010 and finished the year with 16 home runs, a franchise record for rookie third basemen. He even won Rookie of the Month in September, giving Pittsburgh fans hope that they had finally found a young power bat to hang their hat on.
He followed that up in 2011 with an absolute disaster of a season that was plagued by injuries and flat-out abysmal hitting.
In 235 at-bats last year Alvarez hit for just a .191/.272/.289 line with just four home runs.
So while Pedro came into 2012 with the starting third-base job in hand, he was on a very short leash and Bucco fans were beginning to think they had one of the biggest busts in draft history on their hands.
While he hasn't exactly silenced all of the critics, "El Toro" is beginning to once again show the baseball world why he was so highly coveted coming out of college.
What place in the NL Central will the Pirates finish in 2012?
No performance was more indicative of that than the power display he showcased on consecutive days in Cleveland two weekends ago.
Between June 16-17, Alvarez combined to go 5-for-9 with four home runs and nine runs batted in to lead the Pirates to 9-2 and 9-5 victories over the second-place Indians.
In consecutive games Alvarez was able to almost single-handedly carry the Pirates to wins with his power.
If the Pirates are going to make a serious run at the playoffs this year, something they haven't been able to do in two decades, it will be Alvarez's hitting that takes them there.
It is very clear that Andrew McCutchen is the superstar and current face of the Pittsburgh Pirates franchise. He is currently playing at an MVP-caliber pace and is deserving of every accolade he earns this year.
But the play of McCutchen alone only makes the Pirates into a respectable, league-average team. If you add in the Pedro Alvarez that we have seen over the past two weeks, this team becomes capable of winning a division title.
In the month of June, Alvarez has put together a very respectable .281/.370/.563 line to go along with five home runs and 11 RBI, most of which have come since his explosion in Cleveland.
The Pirates in June have a 13-9 record, which is the best in the Central and third-best in the entire National League.
In 2012 when Alvarez has a multi-hit game, the Pirates are 9-4. When Alvarez hits a home run, the team is 9-2.
Now, obviously for the Pirates to really make a run at the NL Central crown, the starting pitching will need to continue to be one of the best rotations in baseball and Andrew McCutchen will need to continue to play like an MVP.
You couple that with consistently good hitting from Alvarez and you could see the Pittsburgh Pirates finally break that wretched consecutive losing-seasons streak and reach the playoffs for the first time since 1992.