First Pitch: Should Alvarez Go To Triple-A?

I’ve noticed the question is being asked more and more: should the Pirates send Pedro Alvarez to Triple-A to start the year? Every time Alvarez starts to struggle, the topic comes up.

My opinion is that Triple-A won’t help Alvarez. We’ve seen him sent down to Triple-A after struggling in the majors. He immediately goes on a tear at the level. Then, after being called back up, he struggles again in the big leagues.

I’m not sure what sending Alvarez to Triple-A would accomplish. For Alvarez, I’m not sure how it would help his development. We know he can hit Triple-A pitching. What he hasn’t shown is whether he can hit major league pitching. You can make all the arguments you want about building up confidence, but I don’t think it’s a lack of confidence for Alvarez. I think it’s a lack of adjustments. He hit well in his pro debut, but really fell off last year. The league adjusted to him, and he didn’t adjust back. You can’t make that adjustment in Triple-A.

I also don’t see the point in sending down Alvarez in favor of someone like Matt Hague or Casey McGehee. The argument is that the Pirates would be hurt if Alvarez struggled at the start of the year. The problem with this is that there are no guarantees that a Hague-McGehee combo at first and third would be any better than a Jones/McGehee-Alvarez combo.

If you’re looking for upside, the group with Alvarez has the advantage. If I had to guess the potential upside for Alvarez at this point, I’m not sure I’d go beyond Carlos Pena or Mark Reynolds: a lot of strikeouts, but also a good amount of power. That might not be the star player everyone envisioned when he was drafted in 2008, but that upside is still better than the potential upside for Matt Hague.

The Pirates might take a risk that Alvarez could hurt the team by struggling in the early part of the season. They also take the same risk with the unproven Hague. The difference is that the risk with Alvarez comes with far more upside.

I don’t think anyone expects the Pirates to contend this year. They shouldn’t worry about playing it safe for one or two extra wins. They should go for the most upside, and give Alvarez another shot in the majors out of the gate. Worst case scenario is that they eventually option Alvarez to Indianapolis and fall back on Matt Hague. When you consider that Alvarez doesn’t have a problem with Triple-A pitching, and that a demotion would only lead to strong numbers and the same questions about whether he can hit major league pitching, then it just goes to strengthen the argument that Alvarez should start the season in the majors.

Links and Notes

**The Pirates lost 5-4 to the Astros in extra innings. Game recap here, including a look at the great outing by James McDonald.

**A.J. Burnett threw a live batting practice at McKechnie today.

**The Pirates cut five players from camp today, including Jordy Mercer.

**Prospect Notebook: Gerrit Cole throws four strong innings against the Yankees.

**Pirates Notebook: Previewing the final cuts of Spring Training.

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About Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He is a credentialed media member with every team in the Pirates’ system, including the Pirates themselves. He’s a regular guest on Extra Innings on 104.7, and makes regular appearances on ESPN 970, 93.7 The Fan, and TribLIVE Radio in Pittsburgh, as well as ESPN 1430 in Altoona and ESPN 1450 in State College.
  • http://twitter.com/scott_klima Scott Klima

    The Pirates are tied for 1st right now, which means they gotta put the best possible lineup on the field unless they fall out of contention.  Right now Jones/Hague at 1B (platoon, to an extent) and McGehee at 3B is the best option.  Pedro looks awful this spring, Hague looks great, it does mean something.  I’d choose Harrison over Alvarez at this point.

  • Lee Young

    Completely disagree with you Tim. Matt has proven himself in the minors and AAA to be a potential Mark Grace, Bill Buckner type (he’s a Hit Collector). His minor league career slugging is .442 with an .302 BA/.813 OPS. Pedro has played twice in AAA. He’s a ‘K’ collector. His stats are:

    367 ABs – 99 Hits – 20/5/18 – 54w – 110 ks. That’s .270/.499 SPct

    That’s only 0.57 higher SPct.

    Plus, Matt would be playing 1b (where he is supposedly avg to above avg) and McGeehee would be playing 3b where he is at least average.

    Send Pedro down. Like that scout in SI alluded to this past week. Send Pedro down and make him EARN it. At the very least let him have some success so he gets some confidence back.

    However, I think that he is coming north. They are bound and determined to make him work it out at the MLB level to the detriment of the club AND Hague.

    • http://twitter.com/dsjoberg23 Duane Sjoberg

      At this point I would give Alvarez about a 30% chance of “panning out”  Define panning out by earning more in his MLB career than his original signing bonus.  He does just not seem flexible enough either physically or mentally to cut it.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      In Triple-A last year, Hague had an .829 OPS. Alvarez has an .862 career OPS in Triple-A.

      Why is it that everyone assumes there will be no drop off with Hague? The main advantage Hague has over Alvarez is that Alvarez has struggled in the majors, while Hague hasn’t had a chance to struggle.

      Both are unknowns. People are just more comfortable with Hague because of irrelevant Spring Training stats and because he’s the shiny new toy. I’m not saying Hague will never be a major league player. I think he could be a starter. But I also think Alvarez could still pan out. And I think Alvarez has more upside. So since neither player is a guarantee, I’m going with the guy who has more upside.

  • szielinski

    Alvarez  has always had strikeout problems — even in college. I wonder what his problem is in fact. His bat is quick enough…..

    • Lee Young

       Agree….it wouldn’t matter to me anymore if he hit .250-.270 with lots of K’s. As long as he was good for 25-35 HRs every year, I could live with it.

      But, even that modest potential is going away….FAST!

      …….

      • piratemike

        Like most people I would rather start the year with Pedro in AAA but the right thing is to play him in the majors.
         
        Can you hear the howling and condemnation of the front office if they don’t give him every opprortunity to succeed at the ML level and he becomes another Bautista with another team?
         
        They need to exaust every method they can come up with whether its hypnosis or voodoo or resurrect Ted Williams to tutor him but they can’t afford to let him fail only to succeed somewhere else.

        • http://profile.yahoo.com/UQEYYVP3GPETWRECYJHCTTAV5Y AndrewB

          Pedro Alvarez has done nothing…..absolutely NOTHING to earn his way to the 25 man roster.  What else do Josh Harrison and Matt Hague have to prove?  Even Navarro and McLouth has earned enough to make the team as solid bench players and so should Harrison and Hague.  To keep Pedro and send both Harrison and Hague to AAA will send the prospects and players alike a disturbing message. 

        • Lee Young

           Even Bautista did better than Pedro.

          • piratemike

            Everybody has done better than Pedro but sitting in AAA isn’t going to help him.

            I am not defending him but they are stuck with him and they HAVE to try to get something out of him.

            As I said in another post having him sitting in AAA hitting against guys like Brian Burress and Jo Jo Reyes  is not going to help him.

  • http://twitter.com/jlease717 John Lease

    He’s done nothing this spring to show me that his problems are behind him.  No more scholarships, he wasn’t even better than Josh Harrison last year.  If he finally gets going, bring him up.  His refusal to play winter ball was that he was tired, right?  Plenty of rest potential in AAA.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_A36XXW5JMQG22XXXRLET7AXHRU G

    There’s this common fallacy that Alvarez has dominated AAA and has nothing left to prove there.  In 426 career ABs at AAA, he has an OPS of .862 and a K rate over 25%.  Sending him back to Indy is hardly a death knell to his career, but watching him flail away in Pittsburgh for 6 months like an AL pitcher in interleague play might be. 

    Let him work on his pitch recognition and patience in Indy and EARN his spot on the Bucs.  It’s funny how every other prospect has to work double hard to overcome their perceived shortcomings (Presley, Hague, Walker a few years ago) but Alvarez is trotted out their because he’s Huntington’s bonus baby.

    • azibuck

       Agree with you and a couple other guys above.  Yeah, he had a very good 66 game stretch to start AAA, but last year proved that he actually in no way has mastered AAA.

  • James S

    Alvarez should start in triple a. The 25 man roster should be made up of the best hitters the team has. Hague, Harrison and Navarro have all outproduced Alvarez and without them the Pirates will score 2 runs a game if they are lucky. I’d also rather see Nate McLouth starting instead of Miguel Dilone…. oh I mean Jose Tabata.

  • keithconto

    Tim, I think your wrong on this one.  And not just because of Pedro’s poor spring.  But, from the admittedly few AB’s I’ve seen, he has no clue as to what he’s doing.  It’s one thing to swing and miss, but he’s not even in the same zone as the ball, that’s guessing.  And you can’t guess and be a ML hitter. 

    As for Hague.  He’s earned the right to be given a chance no matter what he projects to be. Projections are fine, but the bottom line is that Hague is flat out out-performing Alvarez at this point. 

    Potential is one thing.  But unrealized potential is quite another. The Pirates have to move past giving guys positions on the ML roster based on “potential” unless there are no real options.  One can argue that it’s spring training and guys aren’t seeing the pitchers that they will in the regular season.  But neither is Pedro and he still isn’t hitting them.

    Give Hague the chance he’s earned on the field of play.  If he bombs how much worse off are you ?  If Pdero goes down and rakes then comes up and flops you have at least answered the question about the guy being a ML player.  He’s not.

  • gm3285

    No more free passes for pedro.  Make him play his way to the ML roster.

  • BarryJT

    I’m not sure where Pedro should start the year, but looking at his numbers I’m not sure you can say he’s proven he can hit AAA pitching.  In 2010, he put up solid numbers in AAA, but not superstar stats.  Last year, he put an OPS of .797.    Decent, but doesn’t put much hope it will translate to the majors.  That’s the kind of number that was not good enough to get Walker promoted.

  • salempirate

    Agreed.

    Remember the kid in little league who had to ask how to hold the bat before going to the plate and everyone crossed his fingers and secretly hoped he’d get hit by a pitch so he wouldn’t be an automatic out? The pysche of Alvarez’s teammates is also at stake here. He needs more than a hot streak at AAA to get recalled…

  • salempirate

    It’s been decided and all the posters here were wrong, according to the Trib tweet. Ironically DK said in the offseason the F.O. told him, or leaked, that Pedro would have to earn a spot. It used to be that there was a speil about no one was blocking prospects at the ML level. Now, there is some question, but it’s only in fans minds. So, really, who cares what the F.O. says. They have no one to answer to. Not by any means am I saying fans should dictate decisions, but I am saying Pedro should have earned a ML job this spring. He didn’t.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=72405411 Ian Rothermund

    While I would agree that he hasn’t exactly “dominated” AAA, I’m still not sure what else he has to learn at the major league level.  At this point in his career, it seems to me that the only thing that will help him is learning at the major league level.  The problems he has are a direct reflection of the jump in pitching between AAA and the major leagues.

     I saw the guy pull a 420 foot HR in Miami his rookie year off of a 97 mph fastball, his hands are good enough.  With him, I just think it’s the mental aspect of dealing with the fact that most of the pitchers at the major league level can hit both sides of the plate with heat and breaking stuff.  I’d like to see Pedro in Pittsburgh to start the season; if he stays healthy and doesn’t have the majority of fans stuck up his ass every time he goes to the plate, I think he has a good chance at taking a step forward.  His K numbers are never going to be good…the question is whether or not he can take advantage of that pitch or two a game that he gets in the spot he wants it.