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.
**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.
Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of PiratesProspects.com. He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.