With the second pick in the 2008 MLB amateur draft, the Pittsburgh Pirates selected third baseman Pedro Alvarez. As the Pirates have done so often in the last decade, they picked a gem, and Alvarez has a huge pull on the success of Pittsburgh in 2014.
In 2013, Alvarez contributed greatly to the Pirates team that made the playoffs for the first time since 1992. In 152 games, he batted only .233 but blasted 36 home runs and drove in 100 runs for Pittsburgh.
This season, it is vital to the Pirates' chances that Alvarez continues to drive runners home with his great bat.
We can expect reigning National League Most Valuable Player Andrew McCutchen to continue to get on base seemingly with ease in 2014. McCutchen had a career-best .404 on-base percentage in 2013, which was key to the 94 wins Pittsburgh compiled.
However, Alvarez's ability to drive both McCutchen and others in was probably the most important force for the Pirates. While he only batted .233 on the season, his average was 10 points higher at .243 with runners in scoring position. It is important that he works to bring both averages up in 2014 for the Pirates to make the playoffs and possibly even win their division.
Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that Alvarez said his mentality going into the season is, "Just take on the game as it comes with the intention of trying to learn a little bit more every day, in everything that is the game of baseball, and continue to grow."
Alvarez led his team in both home runs and runs batted in in 2013, so it is easy to see why he is so important to Pittsburgh's offense in 2014.
While Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole will lead the Pirates' rotation in 2014, there are questions to be answered regarding the other three starters, so the Pirates will likely need all the offense they can get, even if those other three pitchers have above-average seasons.
Alvarez will likely bat fourth in the lineup for Pittsburgh again in 2014, and it is key that he retains his power at the plate. The Pirates really cannot afford a down year in home runs for Alvarez, unless of course he brings his average up drastically.
Still, power is his greatest asset, and without it the Pirates will struggle to match their win total from last year or even to get back to the playoffs.
Starling Marte and Neil Walker will likely join McCutchen in batting ahead of Alvarez in the lineup. All three men are more than capable of having high on-base percentages, so Alvarez will have plenty of opportunities to drive in runs again in 2014.
Another major area that Alvarez must improve on is fielding, as his 27 errors were the most among third basemen in baseball last season. The Pirates cannot afford to be giving teams extra outs in 2014, since the bottom of the rotation will already have to be at its best to match the season this organization had last year.
According to the same report from Bill Brink, manager Clint Hurdle said "The consistency has got to improve because the total number of errors is not something that anybody would want."
Expect the young third baseman to improve defensively as he works hard in spring training to gain more range and quicker hands.
If he builds on a career year last season, Alvarez will lead Pittsburgh to another postseason appearance in October. The offense hinges on Alvarez's ability to come through with runners on base. If he can do that, he will lead his club in the pursuit of greatness in 2014.