Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Third Base Not A Question....But It Should Be

Opening Day is creeping closer and closer and the final roster spots are being fought for at Pirate City in Bradenton. One position that is not being wrestled for is third base. It has already been announced that Pedro Alvarez will come north when the Pirates break camp. It is more than obvious that if this guy wasn't the second overall pick in the draft a few years ago, he would be in the minors. If it were up to me, that's where he would be regardless.

The Pirates are only going to go as far as Alvarez takes them offensively. Of course they have other pieces that can contribute in the lineup. Most notably of those is Andrew McCutchen who never went through the struggles that Alvarez is having. However, even with McCutchen, no one in the lineup puts the fear in opposing pitchers that they can be taken deep at any moment. Alvarez is the only guy with that type of raw power. But first he has to make contact with the baseball.

Alvarez took the league by storm when he was called up in 2010 but those couple of months have been the only bright spots and they seem like forever ago. He had a miserable year last season and while I don't put much stock in spring training statistics, he has been awful. He has two home runs this spring and those are the only two extra base hits he has. He's currently hitting .135/.154/.297 which is absolutely pathetic. Half of his at bats this spring have resulted in strikeouts. And the Pirates have confidence that he'll magically turn it around?

The Pirates can't use the excuse that they don't have other options. Matt Hague, Yamaico Navarro, and Josh Harrison are all utility infielders that can play third base and all three of them are tearing the cover off of the ball this spring. Navarro has the worst offensive numbers out of the three and he's hitting .341/.408/.477 which is worlds better than Alvarez. Do any of these guys have a ceiling that is anywhere close to Alvarez? Absolutely not. Do any of these guys have the power potential that Alvarez has? Absolutely not. Hague has good power numbers this spring but they're more of an outlier compared to his career numbers.

Alvarez has all of the ability necessary to be worlds better than any of those three guys. But is he better than any of them right now? No. He does not give the Pirates a better chance to win than those guys do. Putting him in the minors where he can play every day against left and right handed pitchers is better for his development than having him in the majors and only playing him against righties. Alvarez has less than 100 games played at AAA. He was rushed to the majors. Ask the Baltimore Orioles and Matt Wieters what that can do to a top level prospect.

Hague and Harrison are not going to sell tickets. PNC Park will not be jammed full for those guys. But what would fill PNC Park is those guys giving the Pirates a better chance to win than Alvarez does. AAA is available for a reason. It is for players to develop. And that is exactly what needs to happen for Alvarez. Sending him down would not be an extremely popular decision but if the Pirates' brass are serious about winning like they have begun to show, this is another good step to take.

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